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FAQs about Sand Sifters for Marine Systems

Related FAQs: Sea Cucumbers, Marine Scavengers, Marine SubstratesSand-Sifting Stars, Goatfishes,

Related Articles: Sand SiftersSand-Sifting Stars, Genus Valenciennea GobiesScavengers/Clean-up Crews for Marine Aquariums, by Bob Fenner, Some Fishes Are Good For More Than Just Looking At, by James Fatherree, Deep Sand Beds, Live Sand, Biofiltration, Denitrification, Live Sand, Live Rock

Valenciennea puellaris "doing its thing" with a mouthful of substrate.

Re: Silicone Mistake; now: sand sifter choices      5/1/18
Not sure how I missed it but I now see the reply you put to that reply.
There have been 0 issues with the tank despite my mistake (at least nothing
I can see). I'm currently working the nitrates in the tank (no ammonia no nitrites) and watching golden brown algae bloom/assuring my family it isn't poop.
<Aye ya; reads as all is progressing as it should>
I did have a question though (surprise surprise) about a possible substrate cleaner in the form of a tiger tail sea cucumber.
<Mmm; not a fan of this Cuke... gets too big, and though apparently slow metabolically; produces copious wastes. >
I need to get the nitrates under control first but I was considering one as a sand sifter in my tank (150 gallons) to deal with algae on the sand and detritus.
<Am a much bigger fan of other sand sifter groups... Please read here:
Sand sifting goby species, Goatfish if you want/need something bigger... are really neat animals, and very productive. Some snails (Nassarius a fave genus) are also useful>
However, I am very concerned about a "Cuke nuke" as it's apparently called... I read on your site that you believed it was less threatening with this species but that was years ago and my searches on your site yielded little information on this subject.
<Mmm; well, the "Sea Apples", Australian and not, and other larger species with a propensity to extend their Cuvierian Tubules are to be avoided. Not so much for this reason the Tiger Tail>
What fish are actually a threat to these cucumbers?
<Well; the usual suspects: big wrasses, puffers, angels... Triggerfishes and oblivious eels...>
Can the nuke a 150 gallon with a 55 gallon sump running 500 ml of carbon?
James Williams
<Bob Fenner>
Re: Silicone Mistake. Now goatfishes; sel., use as sand sifters      5/2/18

You mentioned goat fish as an option, which prompted me to start researching them. I saw you mention once that you disagree with the non aggressive tank mate requirement and you mentioned they were very social.
<Most all specimens, species are. The occasional rogue does occur, but exceedingly rarely... esp. if/where raised from small in captivity>
I wanted to confirm that you still feel they can be housed in an aggressive fowlr and ask if I should group them for the social element?
<Mullids can be housed singularly. In the wild almost always occur in groups or twos>
I'm concerned as well about how much they eat, especially if you think they should be kept in a pair. Do they need to be fed 4 times daily as advertised?
<Not really; no. Particularly if there are "natural" foodstuffs in the system. A huge topic, but am hoping you're tying in a good-sized refugium, w/ RDP lighting, DSB....>
Any favorites you have in mind?
<As detailed on WWM really>
Thank you again for your time and suggestions.
<Welcome. BobF>
Re: Silicone Mistake      5/2/18

I do have a refugium in the sump but in place of a DSB I'm using ceramic plates. I'm also lighting it with a Chaeto max light 24/7.
<Ah good. B>

Sandsifters and grain size     4/10/18
Hello to the WWM expert crew,
<Hey Sunny>
Firstly a BIG thank you for all your passion about this hobby and the help you provide. I watched everything I could find on BRSTV and found the MACNA videos. Of my 3 favorites 2 were by Mr. Bob Fenner (the other is Sourcing, Quarantine & Acclimation by Austin Lefevre).
Despite having read a fair bit on your site and still have heaps of questions as I am planning my first reef tank. I have other topics I will write on in the future sorry;(
<No worries>
Out of cost, quality and convenience / time I am going to sacrifice convenience and time. I have a tight budget and after my initial layout only want to spend EUR50/mth on equipment and stock. The benefit of this approach probably means myself (and my tank) are better prepared and researched for each new addition.
<Am very glad to find that you are aware of costs (including utilities like electric and water) and have set a reasonable budget for ongoing>
Onto my questions. After a few months I plan on adding a Goby (probably Stonogobiops nematodes) & Shrimp pair and later I would like to add a pair of sand sifting Gobies. The display tank is a peninsula about 100G - 120cm x 50cm (60cm high) with an extra 30cm at the back for a refugium / internal sump. I will add pods, algae and refugium mud to the refugium after cycling.
Q1 - Which sand size? - As I want to (eventually) have a mixed reef tank I have Gyre pumps - so the flow will high at the top and then mild along the bottom - but flow is important and I anticipate adding more Wavemakers. I would like to get ATI Fiji White Sand. There are 2 sizes I’m considering - S (0.3mm-1mm) and M (1-2mm). They say "Because of his significantly higher density than a comparable Aragonite sand is the Fiji White sand considerably heavier and remains so better be at flow”. Would a 1” bottom be sufficient?
<Mmm; perhaps with some area (can be circumscribed or just mounted) for your burrowing life; e.g. the Stonogobiops. I would go with the 1-3mm nominal sand grade here>
and will the M be ok for Sand sifters or am I better off going with the smaller grain size?
<It would, but again, I prefer a bit larger, to stay down on the bottom, do all the substrate does... looks, function wise>
Also can I add pieces of shell I have collected from the beach or would this make sifting harder?
<Assured they're clean biologically, that'd be fine. I would add them for interest>
Q2 - Is there an easier pair of Gobies than Signigobius biocellatus that are suitable in a pair for a tank my size that can sift the sand?
<Oh, a bunch! Some larger species, like Valencienneas, are tougher... see WWM re all substrate sifting, shrimp gobies>
I would simply prefer a hardier fish that I won’t have to constantly hand feed. It seems all the Valenciennea species would be too big in a pair for my tank so is the most sensible option to forget about a pair of sifters and get a Valenciennea?
<Ah yes; not too large for a 100 G>
Q3 - Should I clean the sand ever assuming I will add the sand sifters? Should I buy other creatures that will clean the sand? I’d prefer after I get the sifters not to have to clean the sand too much.
<You can wait, look/see if much/any algae, particulates are accumulating on the sand surface. I do like to stir (with a wood or plastic dowel) about half (left or right) the substrate every water change interval (weekly). Vacuuming may prove unnecessary. Cleanliness is not sterility>
Thanks so much. Your site has been wonderfully helpful with my planning on multiple topics and I hope, as many of your other Q and A’s have done for me, this helps others ;)
<Thank you for writing, sharing. Bob Fenner>
Re: Sandsifters and grain size       4/12/18

Thanks so much Bob - it all makes practical sense and matches up with a lot of my thoughts ;) It really will help A LOT.
<Ah, good>
No need to post this ;)
On a side note I just found this page - http://www.wetwebmedia.com/biocleaners.htm <http://www.wetwebmedia.com/biocleaners.htm> I for 1 would love to read that (or even better an article on different animals (maybe the best in each category) that are beneficial in a tank. Like I was thinking of having a dedicated critter in my QT as I (slowly) stock my tank. First I thought cleaner wrasse (then I read up on WWM so nope) - then I thought cleaner shrimp - now I am thinking cleaner goby. I have more research to do before actually asking you a question on this topic ;)
<Ahh, good>
For now I’m more focused on working out the aquascape and the next coming will be a about aquascape (in regards to Maxima Tridacna, an animal I think may also be beneficial
<Cheers! BobF>

Cleaning sand. SW, rdg.       5/31/13
I have a marine tank and all it's livestock are fine but the coral sand has detritus on some of it, I do not like large Gobies or Sea Cucumbers and wondered what else could clean the sand please?
<My fave are snails of the genus Nassarius... search WWM re sand stirrers, this group. B>

Diamond Goby Pair Acquisition   1/9/12
Hi crew:
I have a 225 (6'x2.5' footprint) that's been up for about 9 months and have been having a minor problem with algae on the sand bed; I'm assuming it's diatoms since it's been the same since the initial bloom.
<Mmm, maybe... or Dinoflagellates, a mix... can tell by way of 'scoping>
While I'm working on addressing the underlying problem via a continuous water change system
<Mmm, there are other avenues. Please read here:
the linked files above, and much more archived on WWM>
(I have plenty of flow), I'm also looking for someone to sift/clean the sand. I'm leaning towards a diamond goby (Valenciennea puellaris) but am also considering a tigertail cucumber (Holothuria hilla).
<Fishes are better for this purpose... as sand sifters... Have you read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marsiftfaqs.htm
and the linked files above?>
I'm familiar with the general pros/cons/risks of both and am wondering:
  - Could I accommodate both simultaneously (shallow sand bed of 1-1.5")?
  Would they both get enough to eat?
<Likely so on both counts>
  - Any alternate nominees for best sand cleaner (I already have a conch   and some Nassarius snails)?
<Mmm, these have their up and downsides... depending on what else you have stocked>
It's been said that diamond gobies do better in pairs. However, I've never seen them offered as a pair at any LFS or online. If I buy two what are the chances that they'll pair up and live together peacefully?
<In this size/footprint system, likely they'll get along>
Is there any sexual dimorphism such that I could easily buy a male and a female?
<Males are decidedly larger... best to have your source order, pick out an apparent pair... You could even have another Valenciennea species here...>
Thanks for your help,
<Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Top Layer Sand Sifter 9/22/11
Hello Crew,
<Hi Sergey>
It has been some time since I've written to you (that's actually a good thing :) but I am now dealing with a frustrating dilemma. I have a 75g saltwater tank that I've had for over a year now. It houses a Pink Tail Trigger, a Hippo Tang (I know 75g is too small for this fish), and two Clarkii Clowns (larger female and smaller male.) There are 3 Emerald Crabs, 2 Peppermint Shrimp, about 20 Red Leg Hermits, a Fighting Conch Snail, 3 Turbo Snails, a mix of other small snails (about 20 or so) and 1 Bubble Tip Anemone (green). My water param.s are 0's on the Nitrite and Ammonia, <What about nitrates, high levels are the major cause of excessive algae growth (I did read your statement below).>
running at 82F (I know this seems warm but I read research that shows that a warmer tank extends the life of the anemone (check about.com for that study.))
<This may or may not be entirely accurate. I will ask/refer Bob to the article.>
I have a skimmer and a Marineland 48-60" Reef Capable LED Lighting.
The Anemone sits in the top 1/4 part of the tank so it's is getting the most from that lighting (it moved to that spot.)
<Lets hope it stays there because the Reef Capable LED fixture isn't going to provide enough light for the anemone at depths any greater than that, and may even be questionable at that depth.
Time will tell.>
The big problem that I am now dealing with is that as my fish are growing, there is more waste and therefore Algae growth is now problematic.
<Your skimmer may not be efficient enough. What brand/model do you have?
Also, how large are the trigger and tang?>
I have just recently started adding the hermits (I add 10 at a time) to see where I need to keep them so that I don't overwhelm the system. The concern then is the top layer of the sand. The Fighting Conch is not doing a good job of keeping it clean. So reading everything I could, I decided that I had to find a goby for my tank. After looking at my options I opted for the Diamond Goby. I realize that feeding this guy is an issue but I decided that I was willing to spot feed so I bought him. At first everything was fine and in fact the goby started sifting within minutes. The problem is the male clown started being very aggressive toward the goby. The goby dug a burrow and very rarely came out (it did eat from my spot feeds.) A few days ago (this is about two weeks since I got him), I stopped seeing the goby coming out at all, and eating any of the food. Yesterday I raised up the rock over it's burrow and the goby was not there... instead was a huge pile of Fireworms. I am not sure whether they were there to eat the food I was giving the goby or if they consumed the goby themselves.
<Likely were consuming the remains of the goby.>
I checked all around my aquarium and looked at my sand hoping to see a spot of sifted sand
but there was none. (My aquarium top is very well covered so it is highly unlikely he jumped out.)
So my questions are:1) What could have happened to the goby? 2) Is it possible that he is still alive in a new burrow that I can't find?
<Likely died from lack of nutritious food and the ability to get to it with the clown harassing it.>
3) What do I get to take care of the top layer of my sand? I was looking at sand sifting stars, but I read that they sift the bottom layers, not the top? I would really prefer another goby but one that can stand for itself in my semi aggressive tank. (I do not like the Dragon Goby, I heard it will likely be problematic in this tank too.) Is a shrimp and watchman goby pair a viable option?
<Won't help much with algae control. May want to add a mix of Nerite, Cerith, and Bubble Bee Snails keeping in mind that the triggerfish may find these tasty.>
4) I plan on making one more addition to this tank, fish wise, the Genicanthus melanospilos (Blackspot, Spotbreast, Japanese Swallowtail Angelfish). Do you foresee any concerns with this fish in my setup?
<Mmm, I wouldn't do that with the aggressive Pink Tail Triggerfish present.>
Thank you,
<You're welcome. James (Salty Dog)>
Sergey Sagan

Sandbed cleaning  3/9/11
Okay -- I did my homework -- and frankly, I'm pooped -- there's a lot to read -- so please forgive asking the questions you've already answered J
<No problem>
I have a 125 reef tank about 3 years old. I've tried the sand sifting gobies -- which I like -- but they tend to die due to starvation -- and that I don't like!
I have snails -- but they don't seem to do the complete job -- I know, I'm over feeding!!!
I read about the sand sifting starfish -- and you don't recommend them since they devastate the natural fauna.
<These are poor choices>
So, now I'm considering a brittle star. From what I've read, certain ones appear acceptable for a reef tank.
<Yes, but will mostly sit under your rocks and will not clean the sand..
are useful additions though>
Which should I consider and how many for my 125 reef tank -- assuming this is my best option.
<Any but the green ones>
Any other recommendations are most welcome.
<Have you considered a Holothuroid, specifically a detritus-feeding species not a filter feeder? I have one that keeps my sand bed spotless. You would have to consider if you have any incompatible fishes such as puffers, triggers and the like. I would also implore you to procure/borrow a copy of 'Reef Invertebrates' (Calfo & Fenner), a book which details just about all of your choices in one place>
Re: Sandbed cleaning   3/10/11

Thank you, Simon.
<No problem>
I do have a blue jaw trigger -- so I may not be able to adopt your suggestion.
Of course, I could remove the trigger -- that is an option.
<I would not>
Thanks for the additional research reference. I'll check it out.
<It's a great book>

sand bed, maint.   9/11/10
First, let me mention my deep satisfaction in hearing and meeting Bob at the recent MACNA conference in Orlando. I wish I could have visited with him personally over a drink.
<Any time, past 5 pm...>
My question relates to my sand bed. It isn't deep -- just an inch or so.
It would be difficult for a Jawfish to be happy, I think.
<Could you place a deeper small container of sand in the system?>
I have had a few sand sifting gobies over the past 2 years. My last one, a dragon goby, apparently died (or jumped and I can't find him) while I was in Orlando.
I came home and can't find him anywhere. He really didn't do a thorough job compared to my previous golden head goby that I had for nearly 1.5 years.
My question is: Do I need one at all?
<Mmm, need? No>
I've heard varying opinions about disturbing the sand bed. And my 2 years of experience don't help me much
with this question. I have a number of small snails that are nocturnal and probably move the sand around some. While we all seem to like clean white sand, I'd rather do what's best for the reef tank. If it looks a bit dirty
-- and that's healthy -- so be it.
I would appreciate your advice on this -- assuming there is a definitive position at all. :)
<Well... many systems benefit from stocked (as opposed to incidental) "sand movers/stirrers/burrowers"... though periodic stirring, partial gravel-vacuuming by aquarists can accomplish a good deal of the same benefits. Please read here re: http://wetwebmedia.com/marsiftfaqs.htm
and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>
Re: sand bed

Thanks, Bob. Looks like I'll pass on another sand sifting goby. I checked the tank early this a.m. before the lights came on -- I was surprised at how few snails remain in my 125. I think I'll add a few of the ones mentioned
in the link you provided.
Any opinion on a queen conch?
<Get too big and rambunctious for most all systems... I'd go w/ Nassarius (burrowing) species if anything. Cheers (and biers), BobF>
Re: sand bed
Got it -- will follow your advice. The queen conch came from a lady at the conference (the one with the dog) who insisted that I get one. She was just a bit over the top for me :)
Is a bit of brown coloring on the top of the sand a sign of something bad?
<Mmm, nah... most/very likely just a "Diatom" scum... see WWM re>
My param.s are dead on -- but my return pump needs a good cleaning -- I actually think the circulation to the sump/refuge is compromised a bit.

Nano DSB?  7/8/10
Hi WWM Crew,
I replaced the sandbed in my Mom's 24G Nano cube over the weekend with a 3-4" DSB. Since I don't have the ability to add a refugium or skimmer to this tank, I added a second powerhead behind the rockwork opposite side of the tank from the return outlet in hopes of creating better circulation along the bottom near the sand while reducing opportunities for dead space to develop. When I pulled the live rock and sandbed out, I found only a 2-Astrea snails, 2-Margarita snails, 1-small Tonga Nassarius snail and only 1- fairly large white leg hermit crab.
The underside of the live rock had the usual bristleworms and various tiny critters. The new sandbed is a sugar-fine bed about 3-4" deep. I ran the new sand in a cooler for a little over a month with water siphoned out of my tank, a couple handful of sand and rock pulled from my sump from my 90G reef.
<Good technique, prep.>
The rear media chamber of her Nano-cube is filled with rock rubble. I was initially thinking that I needed to add a sandsifting goby and/or more hermit crabs, snails to the new sandbed.
<Mmm, no>
However, in doing a little research I've seen several recommendations for not adding crabs, snails or gobies as they can decimate a sandbed in fairly short order. Is this correct?
If so, will the worms/pods from her existing live rock along with whatever fauna transplanted from my tank populate her new DSB before nutrients have a chance to build up in the tank?
<Over time, yes>
Are there any clean up critters that you would suggest for use with a DSB?
<In such small systems, none that I'd add purposely. Instead, periodic, slow stirring as proscribed on WWM is about all I'd do.
Bob Fenner>

Deep sand bed, sand sifter sel.  04/14/10
I recently started a 75g FOWLR aquarium. Right now it has a 4 inch deep sand bed, 100 pound of dry rock and a damsel fish. I used some really fine reef sand for my sand bed, it is as fine as dust. My question is, what life stock can I use as a sand sifter for my sand bed?
<You want micro-crustaceans, worms, etc. Don't get any of the larger, carnivorous, sand dwelling echinoderms. "Micro-stars" are ok, but anything "big" is, more often than not, going to be far more destructive than it is at all beneficial. A few small Nassarius are ok too. But what you really need is "seeder sand" from an established sand bed. The best stuff usually comes from a friend's well-established tank (or if you're lucky enough to have one close by, a specialized marine LFS). If these sources aren't available to you, try Inland Aquatics.>
I am not going to put a refugium in the system, just a Eheim canister filter, a remora pro skimmer and 100 pound of dry rock with some live rock as seed.
<I'd get more live rock if you can, as this can also be a good source of sandbed critters.>
It will have to live off the waste product of other fish and able to live on the dust fine sand. I have used WWM as reference for my hobby, without you, I would never get into this wonderful hobby in the first place. Thank you.
<Thank you for the kind words.
Sara M.>

Live Sand Stirring -- 02/08/10
Dear Crew,
I have a few inches of live sand in my 90 gallon tank. Until recently I was under the impression (LFS) that sand sifting stars were a good way to stir the sand,
<<Mmm'¦ While they will certainly 'stir' the sand, they are also extremely efficient at consuming all the beneficial biota present>>
so I purchased three of them a year ago.
<<Yikes! One is too many here, in my opinion>>
I did some searching on your site and read that they are more of a detriment than helpful and eventually starve.
<<They may not starve if the tank is well fed (or at least not quickly). But they have certainly removed any beneficial life from the sand bed>>
I will be returning them to the LFS soon,
but I was curious if there is a better substitute that doesn't destroy the life in the sand and stirs it.
<<There is>>
Any suggestions?
<<Indeed'¦ Nassarius snails do a good job of stirring the substrate, and are excellent detritivores. Another good choice is Cerith snails. Do also inoculate that sand bed from another mature system; once the stars are gone, to reintroduce burrowing worms and other 'sifting' or otherwise beneficial organisms>>
<<Happy to share'¦ EricR>>

DSB Life 3/28/09
Good morning I hope your day is full of smiles.
<Tis, hello Roman.>
I have a couple of questions regarding my DSB. I took your advice and made the switch from CC to a DSB and am very happy I did.
<Ahh, good.>
I have been up most of the night reading about DSB's among other things on your site. I want to make sure that my DSB stays stirred as much as possible and from what I read many people recommend a couple of different snails (Nassarius vibex, and Cerith). I plan on picking up a few of those on Sunday. I will also at that time return my chocolate chip starfish because I want a reef friendly tank.
<Good move.>
I plan on corals in the future. I am also planning on buying some things from ipsf.com in the next couple of weeks. I was going to wait until I get my refugium online and buy the stuff for my fuge and display at the same time rather than do it separately. I figured it would save on packages and fuel etc. Anyways I really like starfish and wanted to try to include one.
I know now that chocolate chip isn't the best decision. I also saw that a sand sifting starfish would not be a good idea. Although the name made me think it would be a great addition.
<The sad part about these is they live long enough at the retailer to be sold to unsuspecting consumers.>
I read they pretty much destroy all life in the sand bed.
<And starve themselves in the process unless it is a fairly large tank.>
I did read that brittle stars or serpent stars were alright. Is this correct or am I off track?
<They are fine.>
I also did see some posts where sea cucumbers were ok and some posts said not. I'm a bit confused.
<Well they can be kept, but I would not attempt to do so in a new tank.  Let the tank mature then decide.>
Is there any of either of these critters that would be safe to corals and my live sand? Or can you tell me any other things that I might be able to get at my LFS that would help my live sand or not hurt it and still be coral friendly?
<Well the Nassarius snails you mention above are my faves. Much of the sand stirring occurs on a miniature level, with fauna populated from the live rock.>
I know the optimal critters are the ones that IPSF offer and do plan on getting them asap. Is it a good idea for me to wait till I get my fuge online?
<You don't absolutely have to, but it is better. It makes the system more stable and it is one less change your livestock will have to go through.>
Thanks again for the wonderful service you provide everyone. Your love of the hobby truly show's in you time that you are so generous to give us all.
<You are welcome, and thank you very much too!>
<Scott V.>

Need A Sand Sifting Goby 1/22/09 Hi guys, <Hi Dan> I need your advice. <OK> I need a goby to clean my 1-1.5 inch sand bed. Is Amblyeleotris guttata going to be a good choice? Do they even sift sand? <They will sift sand near their burrow but don't count on this species for doing the entire tank. They form symbiotic partnerships with nearly blind Alpheid shrimp and are known as Shrimp Gobies more so than sand sifters. With an Alpheid shrimp present, and a partnership forms, they are even less likely to venture too far from their shared burrow. I witness this behavior on a daily basis in my system.> I need something smaller, which would be also able to eat some frozen/flake food. My other choice is: Sleeper Goby - White (Valenciennea sp.) but I heard they are very messy, I don't need sand all over my corals. Tank is 100gal, LPS reef. Any advice would be great. <All Valenciennea species are not easy to keep due to their feeding habits, and are pretty good at covering corals with sand. Two I would recommend that are fairly easy to keep would be; Valenciennea helsdingeni (Sleeper Railway Glider Goby) Valenciennea wardii (Tiger Watchman Goby) Keep in mind that these fish will fight among themselves unless a mated pair, so is best to keep just one. I'd opt for the Tiger Watchman Goby as it would likely be the least messiest as far as sand blasting. You might consider a Sand Sifting Starfish. They would be better in that regard but would put no more than one in your tank. Do read here. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/valenciennea.htm And FAQ's here. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/sndsftstrfaqs.htm> regards' <Cheers, James (Salty Dog)> Daniel

Sand Sifters for 75 - 10/10/08 Crew, I have a standard 75 reef, that is now stocked with some Zoanthid and LPSs frags, a pair of ocellaris clowns, a mandarin, sand sifting star, sand sifting cucumber, and 4 Mithrax crabs. I have a small diatom algae problem, and my two refugiums with Chaeto and a DSB seem to be helping, but there is still some diatom on the sand. I bought the cucumber to turn sand, but I cant imagine him being able to turn all the sand in the 75. I am basically looking for a sand sifter that won't compete with the star or mandarin and have a detrimental effect on their health. I have a few ideas for this and would like to know your input. Saltwaterfish.com has a conch called a Little Bear Conch http://www.saltwaterfish.com/site_11_03/product_info.php?products_id=2943&parent_category=4&category_search=63&root_parent_id=4. <Ah, Strombus urceus...> I know conchs have a reputation for plowing frags but are also great sand sifters. Is he worth the risk?? <Mmm, IMO, sure> I was also think about? a diamond goby, but again I don't want the mandarin or sand sifter to starve. <You are wise to consider this possibility> I was also thinking about adding about 20 Nassarius snails, how will they do?? <They are prodigious workers... Another worthy trial> I have 110 lbs of LR and about 4 inches of sand. I was hoping that the refugiums and LR would provide enough food. Thank you? for your help. Zach <I'd be inclined to try the small Strombid first here... as well as look further into the likely sources of the Diatom issue...: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/brownalgcontfaqs.htm and the linked files in the series above. Do you have "something" too available through your source water? Low RedOx? Perhaps a change in the macroalgae cultured in your refugiums? The addition of or adding to a DSB... Bob Fenner>

Re: Sand Sifters for 75  10/11/08 Bob will a fighting conch have the same effect as the little bear? I know they get a little bigger will this become a problem or will results be the same as the Little Bear? ?Zach <Let me skip ahead here and re-state that I'm not a fan of using/housing Strombids of any size in most marine aquariums... BobF>

to conch, or not to conch.... Most times, not  - 1/26/08 Hey gang. I have searched through the vast pages of articles and FAQ's on gastropods, but I can't find a strong opinion on the role that a conch (be it a queen or florida fighting) might play in a reef tank setup. <Ploughing about, knocking stuff over...> Is it beneficial to have the sand turned over by something such as this? <Can be... in some "settings". But for most, no. Other techniques, approaches are better in the vast majority of circumstances.> I have been under the impression that it's best to leave sand as it lays, as the lower layers hold different types of nitrifying bacteria. Am I completely wrong in this line of thinking? <Mmm... better to "stir" a bit for most set-ups...> Thanks again for depriving me of sleep as I stay up too late reading old FAQ's, -wuf <Please stay up a bit more reading here: http://wetwebmedia.com/substclng.htm and the linked files... BobF>

Starving Goby? 9/24/07 I've got a 55 gallon tank with one OC Clown and Royal Gramma along with new resident Brown barred Goby. <Mmm, I know of a Black Barred Goby (Priolepis nocturnus). It has been about 3 weeks since "Digger" has moved in from QT and he had been acting normal sifting sand and totally destroying my hair algae and other algae growth. He still sifts in the sand but could he have eaten all the critters in the sand so fast? <Possible.> I am afraid that he did too good of a job as he appears to be "wasting away". He doesn't seem to be very good at eating food, it's hit or miss with eating brine or flakes. I have just bought algae pellets, shrimp pellets and Tubifex worm cubes to try and entice some feeding. <At this stage, not so sure if he is going to recognize pellets as food.> Not sure if it is working or not. What is a boy to do? What can get this guy to eat something not in the sand. He ate brine fine in the LFS. <I'd try vitamin enriched Brine Shrimp and Mysis Shrimp. They are not that difficult to acclimate as far as feeding goes. Do read here and linked files above, especially  the FAQ's on feeding. James (Salty Dog)> Thanks again for your help, <You're welcome.> Brad

DSB tank and planning  - 07/18/07 Hi crew, How's it going? Good I hope. <Thanks :-)> Want to say thanks for answering all my questions thus far. I have a few ideas that I'd like to run by you guys and gals about a tank that I'm in the process of setting up. I have a forty gallon reef aquarium with 192 watts of daylight PC's and a cheap skimmer that works quite well. So far I have around two inches of course sand and I was thinking about putting a 2" layer of sugar-fine sand on that to have a DSB. <I'd take out the coarse sand and use only the sugar fine sand (or a bit finer if you can).> Would this work? <Well, if you're wanting it to work as a biological filter, coarse sand is not a good idea. You should have at least 3" of finer sand. Fine masonry sand works too if you don't want to pay the money for aragonite.> Also I would like to get something in the way of a sand-sifting cucumber, seeing as they do not eat all the good creatures in the substrate like the sand-sifting stars would. <Nassarius vibex snails are also good substrate mixers. And kudos to you for doing your research on those sand-sifting stars!> I have around 30 Lbs. of live rock in my tank too, and would like to get a lot more. <Ok, but it is possible to get too much live rock. It's not about weight. It's about volume. You can get more if you want, but just keep in mind that the more rock you have, the less water you have.> As in the way of corals, I have a rock of mushrooms and a rock of Zoa's. Could I get some species of Sarcophyton and an Open Brain? <You can get one or the other but don't get both. Sarcophytons produce toxins that are trouble for LPS corals (and especially bad for the open brain corals).> I am also going to get the H.O.T. magnum filter. Any suggestions would be helpful. <Hmmm... maybe run some carbon in that H.O.T. magnum.> Thanks! <De nada, Sara M.> -Nate

Sandsifting goby, how big a tank?   9/16/06 Hi there, <Hello> I have a 29 tall tank that has 2 (paired) clowns, a few corals and a cleaner shrimp. Tank is quite stable. We would like to add a new fish and I became enamored by a Sand Sifting Goby at the LFS. It is labeled as a Diamond Goby, but it is more green and brown in color, has bands and two small black spots as well. I think it is a Barred Goby. I would guess the fish is about 2 inches. We put it on hold, but now I am worried we don't have enough sand for it. I also read that they will eat regular food, too. Is this a bad fish for us? If so, do you have any suggestions on an interesting addition for our tank? <I think the more important question is how established is your sand bed.  Sand Sifting gobies need a well established sand bed with lots of micro fauna to feed on.  The only problem is that in a small tank, they can sometimes wipe out the entire population.  Yes, some will eat prepared foods, but not always guaranteed.  I would definitely make sure he is eating before you take him home. - Cheers! Dr. J> <<Yep, he's new! RMF>>

Algae Bloom and Copepods   9/1/06 Dear Crew, <Paul> When many of my green star polyps died off, my 75-gallon reef aquarium developed high nitrate and phosphate levels that contributed to an algae bloom. <Happens>   I believe that the overhanging polyps and mushroom corals on top of the live rocks had shaded the polyps on the sides of the rocks. <Could have> After halving the fish population to nine small fish, the water chemistry has just returned to normal.  I expect my skimmer and my 29-gallon refugium with Chaetomorpha and reverse-daylight photosynthesis to maintain the water quality. Unfortunately, my 4-inch deep aragonite sand bed is discolored with micro-algae and diatom growth and I am considering siphon-cleaning its surface.  Will maintaining high water quality cause the micro-algae and diatoms to disappear? <Over time... possibly> Are there any detritivores, such as copepods, that can clean up the micro-algae on the surface of an aragonite sand bed? <All sorts> It has been my goal to introduce copepods into my reef aquarium for possible Mandarin husbandry but I would like to know if I should siphon-clean the sand surface first. <Will help... along with other in-fauna, possibly the addition of other organisms that scour the surface (e.g. some Sea Cucumbers), and turn the sand/gravel... see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marsiftfaqs.htm> Thanks very much, Paul. <Welcome. Bob Fenner>

Fish To Clean Substrate???   8/21/06 Hello - <Hi there> I have a question regarding some basic livestock that are best suited to keep the fine crushed aragonite clean from algae growth and general debris. My tank is 90 gallons with approx 80 lbs of live rock - it is stocked quite lightly, due to the amount of space I provide for a LARGE blue hippo tang that I purchased about 18 months ago and is now huge.    That fish is the showpiece of the tank and fully deserves the space.    The other fish are 1 large and 1 medium sized percula clown, 1 large   (as large as it can be) pink Pseudochromis, and a medium sized goby.    The goby was purchased after I was given advice from the local   retailer that it would "clean" the substrate in the tank.  It never happens. <Some species do so... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/valenciennea.htm> The fish has stayed under a rock for about a year and comes out everyday when I feed.  After the food has gone... back under the rock. Right now, the water quality is pretty good - pH 8.3, 0 ppm ammonia, 0 ppm nitrites, 10 ppm nitrates, phosphate-free. I do, however, see growth of green algae in the tank, and it slowly grows and deposits on the substrate.  Obviously, I do perform water changes, but they appear to be the only thing that causes significant stress to the blue tang - so I keep water changes to a minimum and use Seachem's Purigen product - which I have found to be absolutely   amazing in controlling nitrates.  In 18 months, with only 4 water changes, the nitrates have never risen above 40 ppm. <I'd keep no more than half this>   With the tang being so stable in the tank, I don't want to risk losing it from changing the water needlessly. Is there a fish that would provide some cleaning ability for the substrate?. <Mmm, quite a few> I have a "cleaner crew" comprised of snails, hermit crabs etc... and they're pretty useless... alive, but don't seem to do a whole lot. I thought the tang would help control the green algae, but it seems to eat anything I feed, and doesn't touch the natural algae growing  in the tank. <You might consider other countervailing strategies here... DSB, live macro-algae culture... in a tied-in sump/refugium... otherwise... use the search tool on WWM re "sand sifters"... perhaps consider a small species of Goatfish...> Finally - have you ever heard of crushing regular multi-vitamins and blending them with dry food to feed marine fish? <Yes... but better to use liquid "Baby" ones instead> I was speaking to a doctor about 12 months ago and he had a 125 gallon marine tank with some "delicate fish" (achilles tangs, clown tangs etc) and he advised   that his "secret" to keeping them all healthy without doing loads of water changes was adding multi-vitamins to their food (dry flake).  I tried it and have continued this for about a year and it seems to work wonders. <Vitamins are good/necessary for aquatic life... and you>   The color of the fish is amazing, and I have never seen any trace of disease on any of the fish in the tank.  Is there something to this... or is it just a coincidence? <Is something to it. Life... look up the meaning of the word "vitamin"> Thanks for your assistance - your website is fantastically informative. -Jeff <Thank you for adding to/being part of it. Bob Fenner>

Pirate Fish... SW puffer, Tang with bad eye   7/6/06 Hi, <Howdy> I have a puffer that hurt one of his eyes a few weeks ago. <One? Not bilateral... likely consequent from a physical trauma... but...> The eye was cloudy and puffy for a while, but has since grown back to normal size.  The hurt eye appears mostly normal except that it is black and doesn't have the blue sparkle that puffers usually have.  Is this eye blind? <Possibly> Will the blue ever return? <Mmm, doubtful, though a small possibility> Also, I have a powder blue tang in the same tank. I noticed today that one of his eyes looks damaged.   It looks like it has been scratched.  Is there anything I can do to help him heal, other than ensuring low stress and good water quality? <Mmm, not really much more than this latter> Finally, any idea as to what could be hurting my fish's eyes?  The tank stocking list is:  Black Volitans Lion 6", Humu 4", Foxface 5", Porcupine Puffer 4",  Powder Blue Tang 5", Klunzinger's Wrasse 6", and  a 5" Sailfin Tang.   <A "rough and tumble" mix for sure...> The most recent fish was the Powder blue, added about 5 months ago. All of the fish get along fine, at least when I'm around.  Never any nipping at each other.  The tank is 210 gallons, and has a good mix of swimming room and hiding spaces.  I have about 100 pounds of Fiji and Tonga ridge rock (The rest it in the fuge), and 2 large artificial corals. Should I rearrange the tank to prevent injuries?  Or do these things just happen from time to time?  Should I buy eye patches and peg legs for the fish? <Heeeee! All joking aside (but not too far), this volume of water, amount of rock should be fine... It reads like these were just two unfortunate "run ins" here. I would supplement these animals foods with vitamin adjuncts, keep metabolites low, and hope for recoveries. Bob Fenner> Was Pirate Fish, now sand stirrers!   7/7/06 Thanks for the info.  I have another quick question regarding this tank. What can I put in to stir up the sand a bit?  Are there any inverts that could last with this crew? <Not likely>    Or is there a good fish that will help? <Mmm, got's to get you in training for using the search tool, indices... My fave choice would be a good-sized mullid... Please read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/Goatfshart.htm and here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marsiftfaqs.htm Bob Fenner>

Grain Size For Sand-Sifters - 03/17/06 Hello.. <<Howdy>> I currently have a 90 gallon FOWLR setup with a sand bed consisting of half 1.0 - 2.0 mm and 0.1 - 1.0 mm.  If I had to do all over again I would have all of the sugar-fine sand but what's done is done. <<Ok>> I have read that the larger grain is borderline inappropriate for sand sifter's like gobies and cucumbers. <<Sugar-fine serves best here in my opinion.>> (of course I asked this question to my LFS at time of purchase and they said I would have no problem adding sand-sifters with that grain size). <<Mmm...was it the only size they sold/had on hand maybe?>> My questions is, are there any sand-sifters that would be appropriate for my sand bed or does your experience say I can have the gobies and cucumbers or did I shoot myself in the foot? <<Some of the larger gobies (6"+) may handle your smaller grain sizes fine, but I prefer to provide these animals with fine-grained sand.  Why not add some sugar-fine aragonite to your existing bed?  The goby/Cukes will be able to sift the finer grains, while spitting out what they can't use.>> Thanks in advance and oh yeah.......awesome site! <<Regards, EricR>> Changing/Renewing A Sand Bed - 02/14/06 Dear Mr. Fenner & Staff, <<Staffer EricR here>> I have a 90 gallon reef tank that has been up and running for about 2 1/2 years.  My question is I would like to change some of my existing sand bed.  The sand is starting to look dull and doesn't seem to reflect light like it once did when it was new. <<Depending on the grain size of your substrate, perhaps a Bullet Goby/Genus - Amblygobius or a Diamond Goby/Genus - Valenciennea would prove useful.>> The tank has been stable for the last year with very little problems and I fear that changing out the sand might upset the apple cart. <<Perhaps rather than replacing the sand you could add a new layer (1/2" or less) atop the existing.  If your current bed is aragonite it has likely "shrunk" from dissolution anyway.>> Do you think it would be a more gentle transition if I were to change out my sand with live sand (1/2" Aragonite sand bed ) or would dry sand work just as well? <<Dry sand would be fine, though adding "live" sand will provide a "boost" to your sand bed biota.>> Thanks for all your help.  I start everyday with reading the Q & A portion of your web site and have learned so much! <<Thank you for your contribution as well.  Regards, EricR >> Sand surface cleaner versus sand sifters    1/25/06 Hello again to the best Crew around!!  With the help you all gave me when I first got started, the great website and the awesome books, I have usually been able to find just about any info I need without having to bug you with any questions in quite some time.  But I have a question this time that is a different twist than what I see on the website.  I am wanting to find a "sand surface cleaner" versus a "sand sifter".  Most everything I find on the FAQs deal with something to do deeper cleaning than what I am after.   Here's the background. I have a 210-gal reef tank that is just about a year old. Livestock and such so far has been slowly built up to now consist of: - 5 Blue-Green Chromis - 1 Blackcap Basslet - 5 Lyretail Anthias - ! Coral Banded Shrimp - 5 or 6 Peppermint Shrimp - 1 Brown Brittle Star - 1 Feather Duster - Small Xenia patch - some Button Polyps - 1 small Torch Coral - 1 Cynarina (button/meat coral) - small patch of brown star polyps - large patch of neon green star polyps (lush and fast growing) - 1 Leather Coral, ~ 7" diameter - 1 Cabbage Coral, ~ 6" long - -1 Small blue/white Acropora - 1 brown Acropora - a couple of stalks of Shaving Brush - a couple of Emerald Crabs - several blue and scarlet hermit crabs - some mini hermit crabs - several Nassarius, Cerith, and Turbo Astrea snails - 5 large Mexican Turbo snails - 4" or so of aragonite substrate - roughly 300 lbs of LR - Feedings take place every 2-3 days with a mix of flakes, Spirulina, Cyclop-eeze, frozen Mysis shrimp and frozen meaty variety pack with Selcon drops added, occasional Marine Snow and/or DT's Phytoplankton I will soon be adding some Hawaiian Zebra Crabs, some more Astrea snails, and probably some more Nassarius just to help keep the sand stirred up more.  Eventually, I would like to add a Naso Tang, a Yellow Tang, and probably another Tang, like Sailfin or Kole maybe. That will be it for fish. Then I'll be adding more corals, and eventually maybe a clam.  But all that will come after I get my Chaetomorpha refugium going. <Good> Right now I am looking for something to keep the sand surface cleaned up. Not so much for stirring up and cleaning the bed but for cleaning the sand surface. Stirring would be good but the snails and weekly vacuuming help with that. But I am looking more for something to keep the brown stuff (diatoms?) from collecting on the surface in between weekly water changes. . Also, something to clean up any occasional Cyano that may decide to start up. Eliminating the need to vacuum would be awesome, but is not really the goal here. I just want to keep the sand surface looking clean in between vacuuming. The Snail and Crab Teams keep the rocks and glass pretty clean, but the sand surface still gets a light brown coating after a few days, especially along the back edges of some of the rock caves where the flow is low and the vacuum can't reach. Based on readings at WWM, along with your CMA and Reef Invertebrates books, I have thought about a Diamond Goby (Valenciennea puellaris), but want to make sure it would not decimate the sand bed of organisms the way a sand sifting star or horseshoe crab would. At least I think he wouldn't starve in this big of a tank. I have also started reading on the WWM website about spaghetti worms as an alternative. But I don't much about them yet and need to re-read about these in the Reef Invertebrate book again. <Valenciennea species would be my choice here> Your thoughts good or bad about spaghetti worms? <Mmm, often get eaten...> If I decide to add some of these, would you forego any other sand cleaners to avoid over-cleaning the bed? <Likely not a problem here with the gobies> If I go with the Diamond Goby to clean both the surface and upper layer, should I just surface-skim vacuum the top weekly and not do the normal inch or so into the bed? <Up to you> Any other suggestions you might offer about a sand cleaner? <I'd avoid most other types as too invasive and possibly predatory.> Thanks again for all your patience and great information.  I know you hear this a lot, but I am quite sincere when I say there are a lot of us 'learning aquarists' out here that owe a great deal of the little we have learned, and the successful joy of this hobby, to your efforts and assistance. Many may not still be in this hobby if not for your help. Tnx, Rick Morris <Glad to share, help. Bob Fenner>

Re: Sand surface cleaner versus sand sifters    1/25/06 Thanks for the fast reply, Bob.  Last follow up questions on this, I promise. The more I read your book and web today, the more concerned I get about the Valenciennea puellaris' reputation for jumping out of even well covered tanks and deep digging, plus his need for live Mysis. <Mmm...> So, I thought I should ask if you would recommend the Yellow Headed Sleeper (Valenciennea strigata) as an alternative? <Is a good choice as well... about the same nutritional needs, propensity for jumping...> Should he do almost as good a job cleaning the sand surface with less chance of a rock slide and jumping out of the tank? <About the same...> Also, what is the recommendation on quarantining gobies like these? Since they are primarily substrate feeders, how do you keep them from starving during a full quarantine? <Good question. Mainly a matter of more careful feeding, paying close attention that they don't get "too skinny"...> Will they possibly take frozen Mysis and/or other meaty variety while in quarantine, <Almost always, yes> or do you recommend going with a short quarantine of a couple day and then move into the main tank? <Shorten if necessary... with a pH adjusted FW dip twixt the move>    My quarantine tank is a separate 10 gallon bare-bottom system, so I could add a little aragonite from my main tank if that is your recommendation. <Should do fine> Thanks again for your help.    If you and the Crew ever get down to Atlanta, let me know.  I owe you a trip to the new Georgia Aquarium and lunch at the best BBQ in town!! <Some folks live just North (in S. Carolina...). And I do like BBQ! Both the Texan varieties and more south. Bob Fenner> Rick

Serpent Star/Brittle Star I have a 30 gal reef and was wondering how to keep the sand clean. In a recent tear down I took out my brittle star that had grown to about 10 inches and changed to a white sugar fine sand. Now a few weeks later I am seeing the consequences of removing the star. He did eat several shrimp and fish, but he kept the tank clean. Would a serpent star be just as aggressive? I have a clown goby and don't want him to become a meal. <Kenny, the brittle star and serpent star are the same animal.  You might try a sand sifting star to help keep your sand clean.  Here is a link for more info.   http://www.wetwebmedia.com/seastars.htm  James (Salty Dog)> Thanks for your help. <You're welcome> Goby Dilemma   12/28/05 First, I hope all of you at CREW had a very Merry Christmas or if that's not your fit, finding peace in your Holiday. <Thank you for your wishes>   Now for the dilemma. Not knowing who will pick this message up, here's the recap. We have a natural habitat fish tank (for more on that descriptive, see my new forum suggestion on the Forum message board).  We took your advice to get 1 Brittle Star and 1 Goby as good fish tank sweeper keepers. The Black Brittle Star seems to be doing great in what looks like reach out exercises before we go to bed at night.  We have noticed it did rid a pile left by one of our fish under some rock work, so assume it's stretching it's legs when the coast is clear. <And sampling the water chemically...> Maybe some night we'll get lucky enough to see it out for a cruise. <Likely past dark... with a flashlight> As for the Goby, our Damsels are such snots, they kept chasing it into our rock. <Typical>   We really thought it was going to wind up being a nice meal for the Star but then discovered it taking advantage of early morning or evening room lighting after the tank lights were out when only our Naso and Clown are somewhat active until all is dark.  These sightings have been on occasion at best.  We have concluded our better bet is to assume it's not going to make it or if it does, it's purpose is going to be about staying alive rather than serving the tank. <Yes, best to move this fish or its antagonists> We noticed our modest population of crabs are hitting the sand bed at night, but they can't keep up so we still need a sand sweeper.  Do we get another Goby?  Switch to another animal? <All possibilities... the damsels should go...> Just in case you're thinking Sea Urchin, we feel it would take up too much room.  Our Green Bird Wrasse needs the space to continue his occasional sporting events with the Damsels.  When they get him mad, he turns into Turbo Tube and jets into a fast paced pursuit.  We can tell he loves these high paced swoop swimming adventures. <Well stated>   He does surprise them with some amazing cornering maneuvers through the rock before finally backing off.  If we got an Urchin, be a matter of time till he slammed into it.  Any ideas on what would serve the tank and hold it's own or go unnoticed? <Better to use your own power (human) in adding circulation, increasing maintenance frequency. Bob Fenner>       J Debi Stanley-Viloria "Every minute used in anger, to worry, or visit regrets is a minute of happiness lost". <Agreed... negative energy/action/thought closes avenues of consciousness... Positive ones inspire possible hyper-awareness... think on this. Which is a better way to muster ones Ruh spirit. RMF>

Decorated Goby, Istigobius decoratus, as a sand sifter? Yep  11/12/2005 Greetings, crew. <Howdy Dan> I have a 120 gal FOWLR (plus 30 gal sump with 24" HOT refugium) with the following inhabitants: - Dwarf fuzzy lionfish - Flame angel - Christmas wrasse (Halichoeres ornatissimus) - Purple tang - Longnosed Hawkfish - Three small damsels - Asst. snails/hermits <Mmm, the wrasse may eat these last> The tank is stable and happy. Water is "perfect" as per standard measures (nitrate, nitrite, ammonia, phosphate all zero; pH 8.2; calcium 350; Alk 3.0 mEq/l; temp around 80). The only issue is the substrate (4+" DSB w/ plenum), which could use a cleaning, due to algae. The tang and angel do a great job clipping anything off of the rocks or above the sand, but I need something that will turn over the top 1/2" of the sand and keep it "sparking white".  <I see> I am hesitant about putting a "dedicated" sand sifter (e.g. diamond goby) in the tank for fear of (1) starving the poor critter after it  (2) decimates the fauna in the DSB. <Not likely in this size, type set-up> I have heard that I. decoratus was a "part-time" sand-sifter that also eats meaty/frozen foods from the water column. Sounds like a winner to me. Do you guys/gals have any experience with these fish? <Yes... a very worthwhile species, genus. This or a Valenciennea species would be my choice. Cheers, Bob Fenner> 

Sand Sifters and Bacteria Effect, Mangroves Yikes!! The more I read the less I know!! <This is beyond you! You are on a path of enlightenment for sure.> 1) What effect do the sand sifters and burrowing critters have on the Nitrifying anaerobic bacteria in a 4 to 6 in DSB? Are they (the critters) counter productive in that they allow O2 where it shouldn't be? <Almost nil effect... the microbes are too small to be appreciated, eaten... some stirring is to their benefit> 2) Just how effective of a Nitrate/Phosphate remover are mangrove plants. <Can be tremendous... quite effective, measurably, in the wild> Saw a pic of what I think was about a 30 gal tank with at least 10 to 15 healthy plants about Mmm......... 24-30 inches tall. Profuse green leaves. 3) If they are effective is there a preferred species. 4) What lighting do they prefer? 5) I am thinking of starting a solo refuge, and feeding it if I have to until it is healthy and full of critters and plants before I start the main tank. Your thoughts? Thank You, Ben <Posted... here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/mangrovetrees.htm and the linked files above. Bob Fenner>

Livestock question Hi! (BTW I followed your advice and used some carbon (80g/3 ounces) to remove the bad smell coming from the tank and after half a day it doesn't smell at all! Surprisingly effective, thanks!) I bought my three first fishes two weeks ago: Nemateleotris magnifica, ocellaris, and a Kaudern's cardinal. The clown and the Firefish are doing great so far but a few days ago I found the cardinal lying dead on the sand when I got up in the morning.  Since then I've been reading again on cardinals and realized that they do better in groups, an information I overlooked at first. Here is my stocking plan for this 90 gal + fuge reef tank with DSB (4-5") and 130lbs LR: 1 Clown Goby, Green (Gobiodon atrangulatus) 1 Kaudern's Cardinal (Pterapogon kauderni) 1 Ocellaris Clownfish - Tank Bred (Amphiprion ocellaris) 1 Firefish (Nemateleotris magnifica) 1 Yellow Tang - Hawaii (Zebrasoma flavescens) 1 Green Mandarin (Synchiropus splendidus) 1 Scarlet Skunk Cleaner Shrimp (Lysmata amboinensis) 1 Sexy Anemone Shrimp (Thor amboinensis) 1 Coral crab (Trapezia rufopunctata) 1 Pompom boxing crab (Lybia tesselata) 1 Electric Blue Hermit Crab (Calcinus Elegans) 1 Marble Sea Star (Fromia sp.) + Montipora digitata, Xenia, and Euphylliids. My questions regard the possible replacement of the cardinal by another species... - Should I really avoid cardinals if I am not willing to get a small school? <There are some few that do okay as single individuals, but almost all sold in the trade are social> - Would it be a bad idea to replace it with a Pseudochromis fridmani? They are supposed to be relatively aggressive but I have mixed reviews about that. Don't want to cause problems to my future mandarin or to the inverts. <Up to you> - Are Pseudochromis fridmani generally good at limiting bristle worms population? <Small specimens, numbers, yes> I would like that. Are they going to prey heavily on other microfauna as well such as micro stars... <Not so much> - I saw a twin-spot goby in my LFS and found it very interesting. The problem is that one is not supposed to introduce a sand sifting fish when using a DSB methodology. Also of concern is heavy competition with the mandarin although the mandarin gets them more on LR I guess. What is your opinion here, should I definitely leave that goby out of my plan? <I would omit this fish... does poorly in general, w/o a partner very difficult to keep> - Otherwise I would like a fish that "plays in the sand" (if you have any species suggestions here...). So a Jawfish could be an option.  <Others are listed on WWM> They don't really go through a DSB sifting the sand for food as I understand. The only thing that bugs me is that the available species all seem to be from the Caribbean and I try to go Indo-Pacific only.  Thank you very much in advance for your input! Dominique <Keep investigating your choices... and remember the virtue of patience. Bob Fenner> 

Sand Sifter choice Thanks! I will avoid the twin-spot. But would you otherwise advice against any one small sand-sifting fish considering my set-up (possible problems with DSB... microfauna... mandarin)? <A small species, like a Goby of the genus Valenciennea would be fine. Bob Fenner>   

Sand Cleaning Crew (5/13/05) Hi,  <Hello, Steve Allen with you tonight.> It's been a while since I last emailed you, but I just had one quick question for you. I have a 29 gal tank with some mushrooms, polyps, and soft corals, and was wondering what would be a good fish/ invertebrate that would keep my sand nice and clean, and sifted. I read that the diamond goby is too big for my aquarium, and I don't want to chance it. Any advice you could give me would be great. Thanks a lot. Sincerely, Devin O'Dea  <Personally, I'd go for a few Nassarius snails. They bury themselves in the sand and cruise under the surface like submarines, surfacing periodically. They do a nice job. They are quite hardy, and may even reproduce in some tanks. A Banded Serpent Star or two would help too.> 

Sand sifting animals and plenum 5/6/05 First, like so many people have said before your site is awesome. I really enjoy reading all the advice and gathering information from other people's questions. I have a couple of questions. My main question has to do with "sand sifting". I have a 75 gallon tank with a wet/dry, large Excalibur protein skimmer, roughly 45 lbs live rock, 4 inch sand bed (plenum - however, I forgot to add the mesh between layers), Coralife Power Compact Dual Strip Light with 10,000K and Actinic.  <The heart of a plenum is the void space under the sand. The screen between the layers functions primarily to protect the plenum. Wet/dries are generally unnecessary with live rock, and often lead to nitrate accumulation. If your nitrates are high, you can remove 25% of the bioballs per week until they are gone and your nitrates should come down.> System has been set up for almost a year. I had a parasite outbreak that wiped out my tank and it has been sitting with my only survivor, a yellow watchman goby, for 2 months to clear. I also have 2 cleaner shrimp, 10 blue leg crabs, 1 scarlet crab, and 5 Nassarius snails. I am looking for something to keep the sand looking nice - right now have some algae going in areas. I have had in the past orange diamond gobies, which I loved, and they did such a good job but could not keep them from going AWOL. I'm also worried about compatibility with the watchman.  <Sorry to hear about your parasite troubles. Diamond/sleeper gobies are very difficult to keep alive for long periods of time. Their sifting activity is a search for sand dwelling critters to eat. Even large tanks with very "lively" sand beds rarely have enough of these critters to support these fish. Since many will not accept prepared foods, starvation is common. Also, most of the substrates used in aquaria are very hard on the mouths and gills of these fish.> I was thinking about a sand-sifting star, but was worried about the plenum. Plus, I have seen mixed advice from you on these. Or should I just up my numbers on the crabs and snails? What would be the proper count with my set up? <Snails and crabs aren't really effective sand cleaners and sand sifting stars are predators on the same critters that diamond gobies are. Sand sifting sea cucumbers are great choices, but require fairly fine sand (1mm and smaller). Increased water movement often helps a lot in preventing algae from growing on sand.> I am trying to keep a peaceful community tank. I know that I would like to have 2 clowns, a tang (either yellow or Kole), and thinking about a dwarf angel (either flame or coral beauty). What are your thoughts of this combination and could you recommend maybe 1 or 2 others that might fit in nice. Thank you in advance for the assistance. <This sounds like a nice selection of fish. Other good options include many gobies and blennies, royal grammas and peaceful wrasses. Best regards! AdamC.>

Best sand stirring option Hello, I recently set up a 55 gallon marine tank. It's a FOWLR setup containing a yellow tang, maroon clown, neon Pseudochromis and a blue and gold damsel. I actually transferred everything from a smaller tank. In the process I replaced the crushed coral substrate with a finer aragonite substrate. The substrate is about two inches deep. I am writing to get recommendations on creatures to add to help stir the substrate. I have read through several of your FAQs on this issue, and have seen suggestions of goatfish, snails, sand sifting stars and brittle stars. I am having a hard time deciding on the best option for my tank. I was intrigued by the goatfish (bicolor in particular), but have a few concerns. My biggest concerns are the size of the tank and feeding. Is my tank big enough to accommodate a bicolor goatfish considering current population? <<James, where's your response here?>>If not, is there a variety that would be compatible? <<Hello?>>I have read a couple places where it is recommended that the goatfish be fed four times a day. I don't know how to accommodate such a feeding schedule. While I do not plan to convert this tank to a reef tank, I do plan on adding more live rock and some snails and crabs (hermits and sally lightfoot or emerald) for algae and waste control. Would a goat fish be a threat to these?  Would starfish be a better option? I've gotten mixed signals on the sand sifting star about whether such a small system could sustain one. I am concerned about the predatory nature of the brittle star. My fish range in size from about 1.5 inches for the damsel up to 3.5 inches for the tang. I appreciate any help you can provide in determining the best sand stirring option for my tank.   Thanks, Rob  <Hello Robert. You indicate in your post that your sand depth is about two inches deep. At this depth you really don't need any stirrers since the bed isn't really deep enough for it to go anaerobic as long as you do not plan on increasing the depth. When you do your weekly water changes use a gravel cleaner type siphon and get the detritus out of the gravel/sand. This does help keep the nitrate level down. James (Salty Dog)>> Sand Bed Cleaning Question Hello Bob (or one of his cohorts): <Sam> I have a 180-gallon FOWLR aquarium that has been up-and-running for exactly one year.  It contains about 225 pounds of live rock and a 4-inch thick fine sand bed (sugar-sized).  A 50-gallon sump containing a large CS8 Euro Reef skimmer is positioned in the stand below.  This is a somewhat aggressive tank consisting of a 4" Sohal Tang, 4" Asfur Angel, a medium-size Foxface, a Flameback Angel, a Golden Wrasse, and a Tri-color Wrasse.  Despite having plenty of water circulation in this aquarium, the sand bed slowly gets covered with a dark (grayish to almost black) type growth that seems to grow better in certain areas; it is not a flat matte growth but rather it grows in spots across the sand bed.  I assume this is some type of algae growth and not a cyanoBACTERIA. <Actually, very likely mostly Cyano... with some other organisms> I added a few large Nassarius snails and a white sand sifting starfish to the tank to see if they could remedy these growths, but their help has been limited and confined to only small areas of the sand bed that they are inhabiting. <Yeah... they won't touch this stuff with a proverbial such a length pole> When I set this tank up my goal was to keep the front six inches clear of rock to allow for open swimming areas for these fish as they grow. <Good planning> However, exposing this much sand may have been a mistake.  I would still very much like to keep this design the way I have it, but I need something more to keep the sand surface clean.  The single starfish and the Nassarius snails can't get the job done so I'm looking for any suggestions you might have.  Given the aggressive nature of the resident fish, what additional sand sifters would you add if this was your tank? <Nope> Would a large sand-sifting goby (v. strigata or v. puellaris) be useful? <Negative> If so, how many for tank and sand bed of this size? <They'd likely die from ingesting this material>   Would a few dragon gobies do better since they are considered somewhat hardier? <Nyet> Is there something else other than gobies that you would recommend (i.e., a goatfish)? <Good choice for your size, type system, but I'd clean up the Cyano first> Whatever advice you can provide will be appreciated.   Sam Mancini <Please have a read here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/bluegralgae.htm and the (many!) Related FAQs (linked, in blue, at top)... as you'll see, BGA are real trouble for many folks. There are a few approaches to their control... other than the algae-eating (they're actually more bacterial...) approach. Look to limiting initial nutrients, using added aeration, circulation, competing algal life (like in an attached refugium)... Many roads my friend, with lots of little side streets. Bob Fenner>

Sand sifters for aggressive tankmates hello, <Hello!> I have a 150g aquarium [72l,24w,20tall] I have 2 inches of CaribSea aragonite sand[2-3mm in size and 100lbs of live rock, and a LifeReef skimmer[48 inch tall model. I would like to keep a niger trigger, Picasso trigger, harlequin tusk fish, Sailfin tang. My question is with the triggers what can I use to keep the sand from compacting starfish would probably get eaten, <Very true.> what about snails or is there a larger goby that would work. or maybe o wrasse . <There are a few sand sifting snails out there, however, I doubt you would be able to keep these for a long period of time without them being eaten by your triggers. Personally, a large sand sifting goby would be the best for sifting the substrate. A Golden Headed Sleeper Goby (Valenciennea strigata) would be an excellent choice. Although prepare to have your substrate around the tank and on some of the rocks. These guys are very messy. Some other choices might be a Banded Sleeper Goby (Amblygobius phalaena) and the Diamond Goby (Valenciennea puellaris).> Another question is do you think a large angel like a French, king er Koran would fit in here. These are large fish and was worried about the bio load. I don't want to add something like an angel and have it not do well because it is too crowded. is this tank even suited for an angel due to the fact it is only 20 inches tall?] <Most large angels are either extremely sensitive or will eventually get way too large for your aquarium. If you're set on having a large angel, then an Imperator may be your best choice. But, this will raise your biological load. As long as you're on time with your water changes, I doubt you will have any problem.> thank you <Take Care! Graham.> Brent Screen between sand layers? Dear Crew: Last Sunday I put sand (approx. 4'') in my new tank. I got so excited doing it that I forgot to place the mosquito screen between the layers (to prevent the sand sifters from disturbing the DSB) as I was going to :) I'm planning to have some sand-sifting snails and possibly a starfish in that tank. Should I take the sand out and start all over and if I don't will the snails and starfish defeat the purpose of the sand bed by turning it upside down? << I wouldn't worry about it.  With 4" you should be fine, they won't sift that far down. >> Thank you very much for all your help. << Don't worry, just take it slow. >> Peter <<  Blundell  >> Gobies, horseshoe crabs and Seastars Bob, please help. I had an orange-spotted goby (sand sifter) and decided to add a small horseshoe crab to assist the goby by burrowing deeper into my sandy substrate (2"-3" deep).  Within days, the horseshoe crab ate the goby at night. <Yes> I've removed the crab and am replacing the goby. Would a Seastar (Archaster typicus) be a welcome addition to the goby?  Or will it also feast on the goby?  My tank is 39 gallons. Thanks for your help. Patty <Archaster will not eat fishes... they do consume small slow motile invertebrates however that live in the sand. Bob Fenner> Sand Shifting Needed (9/10/04) Ok, need some advice. <I'll give it my best shot. Steve Allen with you tonight.> I am looking for a sand sifter for my 42 gallon tank with a 5 inch DSB and 50# live rock. There's not the most room in the world so I think something like Astropecten polycanthus might get too big. <Yes, and they eat too much of the beneficial stuff too, which is why I am no big fan of these.> Any ideas? <Nassarius snails live under the surface of the sand and cruise around under the surface like sandworms on Dune or those sand creatures on Mars from one of my favorite 1960s episodes of The Outer Limits. You will see their little "periscopes" moving around in the sand like little sand submarines. They often reproduce in the tank (mine do) and I have found they do a great job of stirring sand and eating detritus.> Oh yeah, anybody on the east coast going to see Jimmy Buffett at Fenway Park after MACNA? Wes <Personally, I'm stuck at home in the SLC area this weekend.>

Sand sifters WWM Crew, <Hi, MacL here> I am trying to figure out what to use to help stir and clean my sand bed. It was all nice and white but now it is brown. I have about 2.5 to 3in of sugar-fine white Florida sand in the bottom. I had a sand sifting star but it died about 2 months after I got it. Did it starve? <Possibly> It was doing great and one morning I woke up it was dead. It did a great job of keeping my sand nice a clean and I am wondering what else I can use without starving it. Most things I have looked into seem like they will need an extreme amount of copepods to live on. I do not have an attached refugium supplying new copepods.
<Right off hand I think a brittle star might work well for you. You might take a look at http://www.wetwebmedia.com/brittlestars.htm> Thanks Geoff

- All Kinds of Questions -  I have a 40 gallon aquarium and I was wondering what type of fish/fishes or invertebrate you would recommend to help maintain my sand bed. <Hmm... typically a sand bed shouldn't require too much maintenance - perhaps some Nassarius snails to help clean up detritus but not much more.> I currently own a mandarin fish, 6 green Chromis damsels, a fire Dartfish, a cow fish, a brown and black brittle star, and 6 turbo snails. the cow fish is about 1.5in and the damsels are about the same size. same with the Dartfish and mandarin. I have purchased the yellow watchman goby but noticed that it did not sift the sand that well. I no longer have this fish, which I had 3. they were eaten I think by my green serpent brittle star or by my dwarf lionfish. I got rid of both of them. I've had the set up for about 1.5yrs. I do not want fish that will get to big. <Then that cow fish will have to go in the near future.> also what kind of chiller should I consider? <Any type that is suited to the number of degrees you need to pull down versus the total number of gallons.> my tank gets to 86 degrees in the summer. would 1\6 hp get me to 76 degrees? <Probably, but more likely 1/5 HP.> or 1/8? <Think it will be too little.> any info would be appreciated.  <Cheers, J -- >

Detritivores and DSB Questions 4/19/04 Hi Crews, <Hi-dee ho!> You guys has the World's no. 1 reef site !!! <Danke, Grazie, Merci... rock on my brother> Didn't bother you guys for a month or so, but unfortunately I have to do it again this time. I have a male CBS (Stenopus hispidus) in a 30 G (2' x 1.5' base). I have read many sites and received conflicting opinions. <republican versus democrat?> 1. Is it reef safe, potentially not reef safe, or completely not reef safe? <potentially not reef safe> 2. It does but isn't too keen on eating poops on the sand bed. I'm thinking of exchanging it to a skunk cleaner shrimp, will it help reducing the poops on the floor? <neither shrimp eats detritus or feces> And how many can I place in such a small tank (I don't mind feeding them though, I have only 2 Ocellaris clowns and a blue velvet damsel)? <these are purely ornamental shrimp and serve little utilitarian purpose. Common serpent starfish would be better here> 3. What other reef safe and non aggressive detritivore/scavenger can I put in there? <the list is long... and you need to first identify what component you are trying to manipulate or export before we can find a creature to help you do it. Is you target diatom algae, Cyanobacteria, filamentous algae, solid matter (this should not be so... more water flow needed if you see such particulates), etc> 4. From the Ron Shimek's site it says DSB needs to have micro-crustaceans moving in the sand bed to function properly, I started of with entirely dead sand, does these critters comes with live rocks? <some yes... but seeding your tank with handfuls of live sand from other healthy tanks (stores, club members, friends, etc) will be very beneficial> If yes will they migrate to the sand beds? <yes> If I were to collect some sand from the beach will I get those critters? <I cannot say... I have no idea what beach on the planet you live near... if this is not a tropical beach, then no... bad idea. If it is a tropical beach, you still have to quarantine it like your fishes, corals, live rock, etc for 4 weeks minimum to prevent the introduction of a pest, predator or disease> Thanks so much guys. :-) Wid <best regards, Anthony>

Detritivores and DSB Questions 4/20/04 Hi Anthony, <cheers, my friend> That was lightning fast. <that's what she said... er, wait a minute.. you were referring to my e-mail reply. Gotcha. Always welcome :) > Thanks for the answers on the shrimps, I am enlightened.  Unfortunately I am all alone and I can't even get live sand from LFS here. <no worries... much of the desirable microfauna will migrate from live rock> 1. How do I quarantine beach sand? Does it mean that after I put the sand in saltwater premix for 4 weeks all parasites and diseases will die off and it will be safe? <essentially yes, they will die without a host by 4 weeks time> 2. I've seen some brown coloured spiny brittle stars in my LFS about a foot long across, are these the most feared green Green Brittle Star (from the WWM site some of them appeared brown to me)? From the WWM web page on brittle stars there isn't any other species mentioned that will reach this size. I live in Singapore and what we see in the LFS are usually from the indo pacific region around here. Thanks again :-) Wid <without a picture of your starfish, I cannot say my friend... it would be pure guesswork. But there are many books and web pages with pictures of the predatory Ophiuroid O. incrassata species. Do look and compare yourself... they are quite distinct animals. Best of luck, Anthony>

Sand Cleaners & Mandarin Dragonets  Hi question about sand cleaners or stirrers? <OK>  I have a 120gal with about 100lbs of live rock that has been growing for a year with nothing except hermit crabs and snails. I have had Percula clowns for about a month and all they eat is formula one and brine shrimp. I see lots of little shrimp or little I call them bugs. <Most likely copepods, amphipods & Mysis shrimp.>  I recently added a mandarin (Pterosynchiropus splendidus) and see him picking at the rocks eating. <Good> Will my tank continue to produce food for him or does his food not reproduce in a tank? <He'll eat the 'pods & they will hopefully sustain sufficient reproduction to keep him alive. More than 90% of all Mandarins starve to death> I believe they only eat live food correct? <Rare for them to eat anything else.>  Do I need these sand stars or sand snails in my tank? If so what kind of stars and snails are they and do the eat coral? <I would consider Nassarius snails for sand stirring and maybe brittle- or serpent stars for detritus clean-up. No "sand-shifting" stars or other bottom predators. They will out-eat your Mandarin.>  Thanks for your time, Rob <Hope this helps. Steve Allen>>

Sand-Shifting Stars and Mandarins (2/3/04) Thanks for answering the questions on the Mandarin. What about the sand starfish and sand snails that stir the bottom do I need them in my tank to make it healthy? <No> What kind of stars and snails do I need? <Apparently, my reply to you became garbled in cyberspace. As in the posted version, I would not recommend "sand-shifting" stars or any other bottom predator. They will sterilize your sand. Brittlestars for detritus clean-up and Nassarius snails to stir will be fine. I think these snails are cool to watch. Amazingly fast-moving. They burrow into the sand and all you may see of them is their "periscope" sticking up until the suddenly surface.> Thanks Rob <Hope this helps, Steve Allen.>

- Substrate Time - Hello crew! Many thanks for past issues. I am at the stage with my new 120 gal tank where I have to add substrate. I am torn between going 4" or 1-2" with oolitic sugar sized Aragamax by Carib sea. I have a 25 gal sump with in-house Aqua C ev-180 skimmer and a Iwaki 70rlt as return and 2 maxi jet 1200 power heads. I plan on jump starting the sand with Surfzone live sand activator from inland aquatics. I would like to keep the sand as clean as possible. Which is a good depth? <The shallower sand beds are easier to keep clean although I would add the proviso that sterile-clean tanks are not really in your interest. Much better to let things go a little in the sand bed to promote the various microfauna that will develop there.> And what type of sand sifters should I use with what depth? <The only sand sifters that I like to promote are Nassarius snails... they don't actually sift sand, but do spend most of their time under the substrate moving around - would provide some cleaning of the substrate but also a vital movement of the same.> I hear some sifters will eat the little critters in the sand. And can they be introduced all at once? <Just half a dozen Nassarius snails would be worth while - could all be placed at the same time.> I plan on having live rock about 100-120 lbs. a few soft corals but mainly fish. Any recommendations would be deeply appreciated and would get my next step going. thanks again and sorry this was long. <Cheers, J -- >

Sand sifting starfish and PH Dear Bob Fenner For the last year I have had a sand sifting star (Astropecten polycanthus) in my refugium and two of them in my 55 gal reef tank.  I recently heard they eat all the life out of the sand.  Is that true? <Many phyla, a good quantity, yes. In a system of your size (about four square feet of bottom... a great percentage of what will be found> On the other hand without the stars my sand would not be as sparkling white as it is now.  So the bottom line is are sand sifting starfish good or bad in reef tanks and refugiums? <Good or worthwhile for many types of tanks, not so good for most types of refugiums> And if they are not good how do you go along the lines of keeping your sand clean. <If there's a bunch of worms, crustaceans, mollusks... in the refugium substrate, likely nothing to do... if not, the occasional stir "stick" (a thick dowel of plastic or wood)> Note I have 2 true Perculas, six line wrasse, Banggai cardinal, Filamented flasher wrasse, blood red fire shrimp, cleaner shrimp, banded coral shrimp, and two peppermint shrimp. too may corals to list. water good.  also I need to know how to raise PH preferably without chemicals or buffers. <Frequent partial water changes, keeping your skimmer cleaned/tuned, careful feeding, ozone...>   but if that is the only way then ok. <If the tank is crowded, over-fed, best to rely on chemical buffers, pH boosters, even a calcium reactor>   PH is around 8.1 wanted 8.3 for my new pumping xenia. or is 8.1 ok for pumping xenia ( Red Sea  Xenia spp.)                  <8.1 should be fine (measured in the AM?), I would occasionally dose iodide/iodine. Bob Fenner>  Kris Wendorf

Sand Sifting Starfish Hi Crew...I hope this finds you doing well.  Bob, if you are around, it was quite an honor to meet you and hear you talk at the MARS meeting in November.  Thank you! <A pleasure to share> My question is in regard to my sand sifting starfish.  I have had this animal for about 3 1/2 years, and until just recently it has been great.  Last night, however, I noticed that is not looking good.  It is still active, but it is definitely skinnier and several legs look damaged. <Not good signs... typically nutritionally related, but could have summat to do with water quality as well... or?>   Two legs are shorter than the others, and one is crooked...almost like it has been broken.  I recently added a green carpet anemone to this tank (100g with 2x250 MH and 4x55w PC) and suspect that it could be involved (like it may also be involved in the disappearance of one of my skunk cleaners).   <Yes> Water params are all great with the exception of a moderate level of NO3...I'm working on that...but I don't think that is the issue as this tank has habitually had detectible NO3.  Could it be that my starfish is getting old? <Mmm, not likely. Turns out some investigators consider the group of spiny-skinned animals (echinoderms... urchins, sea cucumbers, crinoids...) immortal... that's right, beyond senescence. They don't "get old"> What is the suspected lifespan of this animal?  My first thought was that it was starving, but it has never been interested in any food that I offered so that avenue is a brick wall.  Any suggestions? Once again...thanks!  Jason <I would move this Archaster to another system if you have one... most likely solution to whatever might be "ailing it". Barring this I would switch out or add more/new live rock (a good general cure-all...). Bob Fenner>

Sandsifter Siftable? >Hello, >>Hello. >I have a quick question I just set up a 80 gallon SW tank yesterday, currently have 1 yellow tang, 1 tomato clown, 1 clarkii clown, 4 hermit crabs, 6 turbo snails and a sand sifting star fish in it.  I'm not really worried about new tank syndrome because my tank was a 37 gallon aquarium that I just upgraded to 80, so had an immediate transfer of 60 lbs. of live rock and for filtration >>The wise aquarist would count on an upset of previously established nitrifying bacteria.  Be prepared with water ready for any emergent needs. >I'm running a HOT Magnum canister filter, and a Fluval 304 canister filter with 3 powerheads and a 100 gallon rated protein skimmer. >>Great with that skimmer. >Lighting is 1 175 watt metal halide and 4 65 watt power compact SmartLights. >>For... ?? >I guess my question is I just added 40 lbs. of dead sand and I want to know what I need to feed the sifting starfish until the sand becomes live sand, and how long will it take for the sand to become live sand.   >>Well, to the first question, if it's Archaster typicus, it's a detritivore (sp?), and that's what it needs.  If you kept the previous substrate all together and didn't rinse, mix, or bury it, the starfish should be fine.  If you did any of the previously mentioned, I would overfeed a slight bit, and compensate for the water quality issues sure to arise with water changes and cranking up the skimmer.  As to how long it'll take for the new sand to become seeded, that will depend on many factors.  I would count on at least a month. >Also what do I need to feed my anemone looking coral, and how hard is it to keep in those light conditions. >>Unfortunately Frank, there is no way anyone can properly answer your question with this description.  Lighting isn't your only issue here, either.  Your filtration is not what we could call "optimal" for husbandry of corals.  If your sand bed is sufficiently deep it may make for good denitrification, but that would take several weeks to months to kick in.  For coral identification, there are many books to look for, a good quick reference guide is "Corals: A Quick Reference Guide", by Julian Sprung.  For answers as to lighting needs, et al, please make use of the articles and previous FAQs available with our site's search engine (I would also take time to peruse as much of our Marine articles as you can find under that heading).  Marina >Thanks in advance, Frank Di Gioia    

Snail Tale... Hi Folks, <Hi there! Scott F. here today!> I have a 350l reef containing 50kg of live rock and approximately 1 inch of coral sand. I know ideally I should have little or no substrate at all with live rock, but I do like the aesthetics of sand. <Actually, there is nothing wrong with a deep sand bed and live rock, as long as there is sufficient open space...I always like to recommend 1/2 inch or less, or three inches or more of sand. One inch is too shallow to be foster full denitrification processes, but too deep to be fully aerobic...better to increase/decrease for long term success. However, with sufficient burrowing snails, you may be able to get away with this...> I was considering introducing Nassarius snails into the reef to (a) consume debris and (b) turn over the sand. My local supplier recommends 50 of these snails for my tank. My first question is do you agree with the stocking level he has recommended? <It's a lot for my personal tastes, but certainly not too much. These snails do a great job as detritivores> Secondly, I "Hoover" the substrate during my weekly water changes to remove debris, will the suction action harm the snails? <Well, not "harm" them physically, but it will remove much of the food that they consume-mainly detritus. If you're going to utilize a substantial population of these snails, I'd avoid heavy cleaning of the sand bed> Thank you very much for your help. Andrew Senior <My pleasure, Andrew! Good luck! Regards, Scott F>

-Conch fish?- I got a question what are fighting conches I heard it on reef central I guess they suppose to clean your sand bed or something what are they fishes are some type of snail, <Fighting conchs (Strombus alatus) are a type of snail> can you please tell me what is the best sand bed cleaner that strictly stir up the sand for food. <There is no one best sand bed "stirrer", it is usually a combination and would depend on what you are trying to accomplish by stirring your sandbed.> and one more question I have a 65 reef tank my lighting is 175 metal halide 10k and two 50/50 power compact one set is blue and the other set is white and blue, (you know the twins bulbs) my question is how can I get my corals to show more color is it the lighting should I make both of the power compact set to all blue (actinic) <You could swap out the 50/50's for actinic lamps, it would definitely make a difference.> cause I notice on some tank the lighting is blue and their corals and mushroom have colorful glow to them please help thank you in advance..... <The color displayed will vary coral to coral, but the added actinic lighting would help. -Kevin>

Mystery Sand Sifter... A long while back when we first started our tank we bought this little fish that we believe to have been a goby. He sifted the sand in the tank and kept it WHITE. The best part is that he DID NOT actually swim.....He just kind of floated around on the BOTTOM. He lived a long time and we thought this was a very common fish. Later we decided we needed another one but couldn't remember exactly what he looked like. My husband and I have different opinions of it. Since he died we have bought several fish trying to find one like him but with no luck. The closest one we came to him cleaned the sand but also swam all over the tank scattering the sand all over the rocks and corals. If you have any idea of the fish I am talking about please reply to this email. Thanks. Yvonne <Well, Yvonne. Could be an Amblygobius rainfordi, or maybe a shrimp goby of some sort...? There are many, many other fishes that can fit this description...Why don't you check out the family reviews of gobies and blennies on the WWM site? Lots of good information here! Enjoy! Regards, Scott F.>

Sand-Sifters 8/25/03 Hello all at WetWeb, <cheers> Looking for a good sand-sifter for a DSB.   <few if any should be needed if you have adequate water flow (10-20X) and aggressive nutrient control> Don't want to bring in Cukes for fear of evisceration but need a good sand-sifter.  What do you recommend?  The Amblygobius phalaena has been recommended, but I want to be certain the fish will thrive.  Would you care to opine?   <they are outstanding and bulletproof fishes... one of my favorites for this purpose> 72-gallon bow front will be his/her new home.  Already have some Nassarius snails, micro hermits, etc., from IPSF, but need additional sifting. <Hmmm... in a 72 gall.. with those other sifters already... do consider if your skimmer is working as well as it could (3-5 cups weekly or better)... water changes adequate? (10-25% weekly), etc> Many thanks, Peggy <best of luck! Anthony>

Sand sifting choices... Hello, The subject line pretty much sums up my question, but in several hundred gallon tanks with Large Angelfish and a sandbed approximately 1 to 1 1/2 inches deep .... Is a Sandsifting starfish worth considering as a sand sifter/ bottom maintenance  helper. <You're better off with several sand sifting cucumbers.> I thought that since it is not often seen out and about all day, it wouldn't be harassed by the Angelfish. I thought of using a Goatfish, but I though it would wipe out the pod population. <Goat's also get very large. I'd try some cuc's, the angels should leave them alone. -Kevin> Rich

Sand sifting starfish ( Archaster typicus ) 5/22/03 Do you recommend a sand sifting star for a reef tank? <generally not... they are hardy and very efficient if given a large enough sand bed... but they really need a large aquarium to survive long-term (else slow-starvation). One star per 100-200 gallons with a DSB of 4+"> I have a 55 gallon with 75 lbs of Fiji rock and live sand and many corals, anemones and invertebrates. What are the pros and cons of them. I get a lot of mixed opinions and would like your advise. <simply as stated. Do seek other sand aerators/agitators/detritivores (like Nassarius snails) and maintain good water flow instead, mate. Kind regards, Anthony>

What's Stirring? (Sand-Sifting Animals) Which animals do you recommend for stirring a non live sand substrate? <Well-quick correction, if I may... :)  "Dead" sandbeds (i.e.; those that started with dry, packaged sand, will ultimately become quite "live" after being in your tank for a while. Many microfauna, worms, etc., will begin to populate a substrate faster than you think!> I have a six lined wrasse and the corals but I still end up having to manually stir the substrate to disperse food that has settled. <If you have a deeper sand bed (like 3" or more), stirring it regularly can disrupt some of the denitrification processes that occur in a deep sand bed. If it's a shallow bed (like 1/2" or less), this practice is acceptable) As the tank is only 36 inches and I do not have many crevices I am concerned that the wrasse may be territorial to any new fish or shrimp, and I'm not going to risk hermit crabs. <There are a number of fishes that "stir" the sand with their activities, such as Jawfish, but they generally feed from the water column. Other fishes, such as Sand Tilefishes and "Sleeper Gobies", do stir the sand with the intent of deriving food, but often starve slowly, as there is usually not enough food for them to survive for extended periods. A better choice for a sandbed "stirring" animal would be the brittle starfish, which can get into all of those nooks and crannies to get uneaten food. They are very comical to watch, and can do very well for long periods of time. They are generally harmless to fishes and other inverts. Various sea cucumbers are also used as detritivores, but I am generally less enthusiastic about their use. They can also be damaged by coarse substrates, such as crushed coral, etc., and do get sucked into powerheads and filter inlets on occasion, so do take this into account if you intend to use these animals. There are many other possibilities, so do a little research on the wetwebmedia.com site. Have fun! Regards, Scott F>

What's Stirring? (Sand-Sifting Animals)- PT 2 I don't have live rock in the aquarium so it cant be populated that way. I don't want to risk introducing nuisance animals. I had brittle stars but they didn't sift the substrate at all in my aquarium. <Darned lazy starfish!> Do shrimp gobies ever live without Alpheids in the wild? <In the wild, almost never...In an aquarium, absolutely. You won't get to witness the fascinating symbiotic relationship between these two creatures, but it's done all of the time with great results> I don't want to add one otherwise. I know they are easier to feed than the usual burrowing gobies. Would 2 inches deep be enough for one? <If you can supply some small rocks for him to "buttress" his burrow, it can work. Another inch would be a bit better, but if you're using a fine enough substrate, 2 inches could work. Give it a shot! Regards, Scott F>

Re: sandsifting starfish and vanishing fish Guys, in my 450 gal reef tank,1 to 3 inch  deep sandbed I have 4 sandsifting starfish. Do you consider them a plus as scavengers ,or a negative in that they eat sandbed fauna. <Your assessment is correct. Simply decide which trade-off you are willing to accept> I have 1 mandarin in the tank for about 5 months ,seems to be doing ok but not chubby, don't want to eliminate his food supply. <As large as your tank is, if it's been setup a while with live rock, you may have a chance of success with this fish> The tank has a 90 gal refugium, no predators, that is in full bloom. Loaded with life, bugs etc. Yet I have never seen one "pod" in the main tank, even after dark. <You may not have seen them but they are present. The mandarin is probably eating them> Main tank has approx 500 lbs live rock, assortment of tangs and wrasses, cardinals, light bioload. I was hoping to see the pods established in main tank, but assume they get picked of as soon as they arrive from refugium. Main tank running for 7 months now, refugium 3 months. <Yep...I agree> Am I being impatient? <Maybe> Now for vanishing fish. Every so often one of my pets will vanish. I spend a lot of time observing the tank, looking for signs of disease, unusual swimming, breathing, feeding behavior, etc. Then a perfect ally healthy fish will disappear. Not in overflows, and not to be seen in rockwork without disturbing tank. I've lost several nice fish in the last 3 months. I've been sneaking up on tank at night, lights out, but have yet to spot a mantis shrimp or other monster. I do have several emerald crabs in tank, one getting quite large,1 inch across, and a few sally Lightfoots. Thinking of removing them from tank, but have never observed them feeding on a dead fish. Am going to buy a trap to see if I catch something. Any ideas? <Well, as large as your tank is it's possible that the fishes haven't actually died but are hiding. I have 100 lbs of live rock in my tank and occasionally a critter will disappear for 5 or 6 weeks and then suddenly reappear. This may be the case with your fish...harassment by tankmates usually causes this...or they could be dead and wedged into the rockwork. You would probably need to dismantle the tank to find them > Thank You, Paul <You're welcome! Hope that I've helped...David Dowless>

pH instability, sandsifting organisms and activity Hi, still trying to troubleshoot my pH problems. I can get the pH to 8.35 with Kalk or B-Ionic but then will fall by the end of the day to 8.1, daily. <Take a look at these two FAQ files. We have diagnosed a bunch of low pH problems previously. http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marphfaq2.htm http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marphfaq3.htm> If I vacuum my gravel, will my sand-sifting starfish starve? <Possibly> I have two in my 180 gallon with about 3" of sugar size sand and I have never vacuumed it since up and running for years. <If it is sugar sized sand and you have vigorous water movement, you should not have any detritus able to settle in between the sand grains and therefore any need to vacuum the sand.> I wouldn't want to kill something in my tank just to get my pH to stay at a constant level. Any suggestions? <Source water, salt mix, mixing procedure, CO2 accumulation, frequency or amount of water changes, etc.> Thanks, Jeff <Good luck to you! -Steven Pro>

He Digs Fish That Don't Dig! This will be a SPS tank with strong lighting and brisk water flow. what I don't want is sand sifters in this tank. My 55 still has my first fish in it and I am fed up with this relocation of what ever they see fit. These are damsels that like to dig. I just want things to stay put . Most of my rock in my 125 are large pieces to give me a more open sand look but still achieve a reef. I assume a little sifting is good??? <Well, some people even siphon the upper 1/2 inch or so of their DSB's, or employ animals like brittle stars and sea cucumbers to do the work. Either way, many of the beneficial "infauna" that reside in the sand are destroyed or disrupted.> But digging like an inch or two is not. <Correct, digging deep into the substrate can cause a major disruption to the nitrification process occurring in the sand bed> Can you give me an idea? Best tang? Yellow, Purple, or the Copper? <Well, it all depends on what you want the tang for (i.e.; algae control, or just plain enjoyment, or both..), and what his/her companions will be. My all-around choice of the species that you listed (BTW- I don't know what a "Copper" Tang is...?) is the Yellow Tang-Generally hardy, adaptable, easy to feed, sociable, and peaceful.> What about blennies? I would like to occupy all levels-mid, upper, and lower levels of the water column. <Well- there is a huge variety of blennies to choose from. You can include the Meiacanthus ("fang blennies"), which are mid water swimmers, the "Sailfin" blennies, which tend to swim throughout the water column, and the "grazing" type blennies, such as the "lawnmower" blennies, which tend to stick to the bottom of the tank. All can do very well, provide reasonable variety, color, and interest, and most stay smaller (less than 4 inches). And the ones I mentioned don't dig! Really good choices for reef tanks, IMO> Thank you <And thank YOU- for stopping by! Regards,  Scott F.>

Sandbed Critters In a past Aquarium Fish Magazine article mention was made that there are kits available to replenish the critters that live in the live sand bed.  The article stated that this could or should be done once or twice per year. I have searched the web high and low for any type of kit. Do you know of any supplier for these kits? <Lots of them! For starters try IPSF.com (Indo-Pacific Sea Farms) and InlandAquatics.com: Then check the etailer links at Wetwebmedia.com. Have fun searching!> Thanks, Gordon <You're welcome! David Dowless>

Sand-sifting Star Heya Bob, <<You got JasonC this time... hello,>> Thanks again for your help; couple of questions about sand-sifting starfish -- first, can they sift / move around underneath rock work? I have about 30% of my sand bed exposed, not covered by rock (mainly around the front), but was wondering if this may not provide enough area for a sand-sifting starfish or two to move around and get food (I have a 60 gallon tank). <<Good question, and I'm not sure I know. All the ones I've seen seem to be near the surface of the sand, but I suppose it all depends on where the food is.>> second, I read they eat worms -- will they eat fan worms, particularly small ones? <<They may...>> I now have an odd looking overgrowth of small fan worms in my sand bed. <<Hmm... if they live in the sandbed, then they are fair game for the Seastar.>> thanks! <<Cheers, J -- >>

Live Sand Cleanup Hello, I was interested in finding out the best clean up crew for two of my tanks. I have a 55 gallon with 2 inches of live Florida sand, 75 lbs. of live Fiji rock, a copper banded butterfly, maroon clown, damsel, a green mandarin, 2 small colonies of mushrooms, a small colony of sun polyps (tube), 2 emerald crabs, 3 blue legged hermits, 1 red legged hermit, 1 coral banded shrimp, 3 peppermint shrimp, 2 cleaner shrimp, 3 turbo snails ( 1 is a baby), and a unknown snail sold to me by my local fish store. The 10 gallon has 2 inches of live Florida sand, 15 lbs. live Fiji rock, 1 percula clown, 1 coral banded shrimp, 1 peppermint shrimp, and 2 turbo snails. Please let me know what is best. I was debating on whether to get Nassarius snails for both tanks, and 1 White Sand Starfish (Archaster typicus) for each tank. <Leave out the starfish. You need the beneficial critters living in the sand, that the starfish will eat, to feed your Mandarin.> I have heard mixed things about the above starfish so I wanted to ask you. There is a link to the site that made me wonder about the starfish, it is listed below. <I agree with the link.> Thanks, Daniel http://www.globaldialog.com/~jrice/invert_page/whsandsr.htm <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Substrate Cleaners Hello Bob & Cohorts! <The cohort Steven Pro today.> Quick question (I hope) for you: I'm looking for a fish or critter that will clean the substrate (crushed Puka shell) of my 75 gallon FOWLR tank. I want something that will be fish, snail, and shrimp-friendly. I was leaning towards the sand-sifting star until I read several posts that said that you don't like them (the reason was not specified, however). <I do not like the sand sifting starfish because they eat worms and other beneficial critters. Besides, the sand sifting starfish needs sand, not crushed shell.> So, although they give me the creeps, I'm leaning towards a black brittle star. Any thoughts, comments or recommendations? <The best thing would be to try and find the miniature serpent starfish. They are excellent scavengers and do like the substrate you have. If not, several serpent and brittle starfish would be fine. Just stay away from the green brittle (fish eating) starfish.> Thanks! -Jes <You are welcome. -Steven Pro>

Big sand sifters Hello (again), <cheers> I wrote you yesterday and I appreciate the quick response. I currently have sand as a substrate in my tank and was wondering if there were any sand sifting and algae eating creatures that would survive in a tank (125 gal) with the two eels, the Lyretail wrasse, and the pink tail trigger?  <hmmm... not much I suspect. But a large goatfish may very well work fine.> Also what is the best way to get my eel to start eating frozen or prepared foods? <begin with thawed squid tentacles (whole calamari at the Italian groceria or a big grocery store). No eel can resist them wagged in their face <smile>> The previous owner only fed them live Rosy Reds.  <what an absolutely horrible food for an eel!> Should I just not feed him for a while and wait until he is hungry enough? <that would be fine if necessary... they can go many weeks without food if necessary. I suspect the frozen squid tentacles will work though <G>> Do let me know if it doesn't> Thanks (again!) Jeff from NC <kindly, Anthony Calfo>

Sand Sifter, Marine Scavenger selection Sorry guys, I forgot one question. Seeing as I'm going to be moving some things out this weekend, I wanted to ask you about a good sand-sifter. I'm taking out my goby to save it from the wrasse. I'm also going to try and find and capture a small lizardfish that I've had for a long time, but I rarely see. The lizard fish and the goby do serve a purpose though. This tank is only going to be the Emperor Angelfish, Purple Tang, Paddlefin Wrasse, a 2in. Maroon Clownfish, his anemone, about 30 tiny blueclaw hermits, a cleaner shrimp, and a coral banded shrimp. Is there a good starfish that won't eat my maroon or shrimp? How many should I get? <I am not a big fan of the sand sifting starfish, Archaster sp. I prefer to have the sand sifter by all the tiny critters instead, but I do like to have a serpent or brittle starfish for scavenging. Use one for every 4-6 square feet of bottom area. Take a look here for starters http://www.wetwebmedia.com/seastars.htm -Steven Pro>

Sand Sifter, Marine Scavenger selection II Thanks, What tiny critters do you prefer to use for sifting?  <Just the host that "comes with" using live rock. By and large these will/do supplant any provided otherwise> I read up more on the brittle stars and it seems that the one that 's most popularly offered (green) is does exactly what I feared.......eats fish.  <Yes, the common Green> Sounds like it could take my clown and I'd even be concerned about my wrasse as it is not that big and sleeps in a hole he dug between two rocks. Is the red brittle a better choice? Thanks again. <Yes, and there are many other Ophiuroids that are suitable. Bob Fenner>

Sand Sifting Star Detrimental to Plenum Setup? I have 40 gallon with a small sump (10 gallon aquarium) that has a 1" plenum and 3" of aragonite sand. Is it possible that the sand sifting star that is in sump could be removing the beneficial bacteria (absorbing/eating it)? Or is it doing more help than bad by stirring it up and removing detritus? Are there better creatures for this? (stirring the substrate that is) <Good questions... the Archaster star is doing more good than harm. There are other organisms you could use instead, in addition. Please use the search tool, or marine index to read about "Sand Sifters"... on www.WetWebMedia.com Bob Fenner> Thanks in advance, Dan

Re: Sand cleaning <Anthony Calfo here... waiting for the Badminton Olympic competition> I currently have a 55 gallon that I am moving to a reef setup. To date, I have added a refugium that has taken off quite nicely, bringing a total halt to all nuisance algae in the main tank, 50 + lbs of live rock, and a 3 inch sand bed. I added a reef relief cleanup crew from FFExpress. The other inhabitants are 1 yellow tang, 1 blue damsel, 1 false percula, 1 neon goby, and 1 Sebae anemone. Of the reef cleanup crew, I have lost 1 Mithrax crab and one impatiens cucumber. I am awaiting a new stand so I can transfer the whole shebang to a 75 gallon for the extra breathing room and to double my lighting to 2 48" 2x65w SmartLights. My rock is starting to be covered in bright purple coralline algae and I am fairly happy with the progress to date. <very fine...kudos> Now to my question. It seems my sand cleaners have been doing everything but. The remaining cucumber went into hiding for a month and just resurfaced the other day. He seems to like the rocks and the glass, but plays hot potato with the sand. <tiger's tail species or common Floridian (the latter is quite lazy)> The same goes for my starfish. <what kind/species> The rest of the tank is looking great, but the sand is getting crusty. Any suggestions for a more suitable tankmate to handle that aspect of the janitorial duties? <stronger/adjusted water flow can keep detritus in suspension enough to not need many (skimmer exports the organics instead)> I also wanted to yet again thank those that make this site possible. The information provided here has saved me much time and money, given me a clearer view of my ultimate goal to emulate the ocean as closely as possible, and the best part of all, saved lots of livestock from suffering because of my personal ignorance. Benji <outstanding, and thank you! Do pass on what you learn to others in kind. Anthony>

Keeping the Sand Clean Hi Anthony <hi, Ev... I haven't been carried away to the funny farm just yet<smile>> When I started my 55g marine tank almost two years ago, I got some bad advice on livestock from an LFS, but I have muddled through, keeping everyone healthy. (In other words, I wouldn't choose these animals today, but I've got them now.) <yes, we do the best we can> Over the two years I have moved from FO to FOWLR (about 65 lb of LR) to reef tank. Finally, four or five months ago, I changed from a shallow crushed coral substrate to a sand bed 4 to 5 inches deep. <excellent move> I have had an anemone (Heteractis malu) for 18 months, and he has been and remains in apparent good health. <good species when you can find a healthy one at the LFS> He gets what filters within his reach plus a couple of frozen krill per week, which he absorbs greedily. <fair enough, but vary the diet and use smaller foods for even better health. like Pacifica plankton and mysids> His foot is deep in the sand, and I have 4x96 watts of PCs overhead. The problem is the sand around him is becoming matted and unpleasant looking, and getting worse. The rest of the sand is intermittently coated with thin patches of tan-colored "stuff" that is not getting worse and does not seem to be a problem. <better nutrient export through increased water circulation and especially improved protein skimming (daily skimmate collection) can usually correct this naturally within weeks> Vacuuming is not an option  <agreed> because the sand is so fine, and I hate to abuse the anemone. I suspect the answer would be a good crop of critters living in the sand, <helpful, but addresses the symptom and not the problem...above> but I can't seem to develop a population and I assume my Pseudochromis fridmani is feasting on anything that sticks its head out of the sand. <to some extent, yes> (It seems contradictory, but I actually had a pretty good population of 'pods and small worms with the old CC substrate, and I used that substrate in nylon "bags" to seed the new sand, but the population has dwindled to almost nothing two months after removing the old substrate bags.) <unrelated most likely> I have also had red- and blue-legged crabs, which IME do little to clean the sand, and spend most of their lives combing the rocks. <definitely the case with red-legs... true blue legs are usually good for staying on the sand>  What can I put in the tank that will clean the sand and survive the Pseudochromis?  <brittle or serpent starfish (except green brittle species), tigers tail cucumber, nt bad... but may not be necessary. A small goatfish is an excellent choice albeit a bit frisky> The tank parameters are good; I run an AquaC skimmer, <daily product? If not...there is your algae food> a couple of mechanical filters and lots of water flow. Other fish are two clowns and a 2 1/2 inch hippo tang. (Yeah, I know, another poor choice, but he seems fat and happy albeit small after 18 months or so.)  <no way, dear... nice fish, but outgrows your tank. Oh, ya... and an Ich magnet...hehe> Half a dozen corals - - Wellsophyllia, Lobophytum, bubble, hammer, some hairy mushrooms, Ricordea. I would appreciate any clean-up help you can provide. Regards, Ev Newton <do improve nutrient control and you'll watch the algae dwindle in 3-6 weeks naturally...the best way. Kindly, Anthony>

Sand bed cleaning I got a question regarding hydro-cleaning a sand bed. I've got a 125gal tank with about 5-6in of fine (sugar sized) sand. I haven't vacuumed it for about three months because I've been attempting to 'automate' the process by employing a highly diverse and strong fleet of detritivores (spaghetti worms, amphipods, copepods, Mysid, cucumbers, micro stars, brittle/serpent). regardless of how great the system sounds on paper it just doesn't work well enough. so no am stuck with ultra fine sand that needs to be hydro-cleaned.  <Or stirred perhaps... not shaken, call me Bond> can you recommend or point me to a place where I could get a cleaner designed to get waste and not sand? I've heard that they exist, but are pretty expensive. id rather DIY the vac. <This can be done... easy enough to build a large enough diameter gravel vacuum... that you can "fine tune" the flow with so you don't suck out the fine substrate...> anyways am struggling with a dissolved organics issue and am left with few options. <Why?> am doing frequent, large water changes 50% every week <This is too much> and I vacuum out large patches of Cyanobacteria and other slimes/algae. so at least the organics locked in them are out of the system.  <99.9 some percent water...> also I harvest my Caulerpa tank regularly, sadly that's the only thing that is enjoying the sewage issue. oh, and the bio load exerted by my livestock is medium-low. god, I hate vacuuming tanks... it looks like my quest for a (mostly) carefree system got me into trouble. thanks Jon Trowbridge <Time to investigate your options a bit more... do post your query, situation on our chatforum: http://talk.wetwebfotos.com/ Bob Fenner>

Sand Sifters... Bob, I would like to know what is a good sand sifter for my reef. I did have a Valenciennea puellaris, but as noted on your site his genus is notorious for jumping. I am really not a fan of paying up to $20 every so often just to replace this fish. I also have a black- banded serpent star and about 20 turbo snails, which are doing just fine. The other livestock I have in my tank are…Purple Tang, Flame Angel, Arc Eye hawk and a false Percula clown, along with clams and misc. corals. <Try a few Nassarius snails. Bob Fenner> Regards, Keith Broadbent

Keeping Marine Substrates Clean Mr. Fenner, Are there any other ways to keep my substrate clean instead of sleeper gobies, or other sand sifting gobies. I have had no luck with gobies in my tank, they last for like a month and then they perish. Is there any other way to keep the substrate clean, I have heard of some star fish that can assist with this, thanks for any recommendations you can give me. With the sleeper gobies, since they clean the substrate so fast, do they run out of food, thus starving to death? If so what do they normally eat, mine would not eat the pellet food or flakes I fed the fish. <All sorts of choices... depending on the size, type of system, what other livestock you have... Please see here: http://www.wetwebmedia.com/marsiftfaqs.htm Bob Fenner> Alfredo Carrion

Shark Tank Substrate Question Dr. Bob, <No doctoral puhleeze> Been thinking about changing strategies regarding how I setup my sand bed to best facilitate detritus consumption and general water quality support for a 500 gallon tank whose primary occupant is a Bonnethead shark. <A few ways to go here... as you likely know> Currently, sand is sugar-sized aragonite, from 1? - 2? in depth. General maintenance is provided be two 3? goatfish, 5 sand-sifting stars, 2 small queen conchs, a couple of Mexican turbo snails, about 25 narcisus (sp?) <Nassarius> snails, a few bristle worms and assorted tiny stuff. I was thinking about increasing sand bed depth and trying to propagate critters to create a live sand bed. Stuff like Mysis shrimp, Gammarus shrimp, miniature brittle stars, more bristle worms, orange spaghetti worms and micro stars.  <Sounds neat> Also, I'd greatly increase the number of narcisus (or however you spell it) snails. Of course, if I wanted to propagate these critters in sufficient numbers, I'd probably have to eliminate the goatfish and reduce the number of sand-sifting stars. What do you think? Which way would you go? Am I O.K. as is, or would the extra expense of creating and seeding a more fully ?live? sand bed pay off? J.D. Hill <I wouldn't spend any money on seeding this substrate... the live rock will do this completely. Bob Fenner>

Hello again! (marine set-up, stocking... sandsifters) I am trying to limit my email to you! Except another question(s) has arisen and I am gathering conflicting advice. Yesterday, I switched out my CC for Home Depot Southdown sand for my 55g FO. I seeded the sand for a week with established tank water and nylon filled packets of CC. The 45lbs Fiji LR I received 2 weeks ago from FFE has cycled. After the tank clears, I will add the LR. My fish looked slightly stressed yesterday (just from the dust cloud created from the removal of the CC) and were moved to a 10g. Hopefully tomorrow I can move the fish and cleaner shrimp back to the 55g. Will my tank cycle again...with the new sand and LR?  <Yes, likely... best to proceed slowly, deliberately here> Other than the majority of water and the sponge in my mechanical filter, I am thinking this tank is similar to one just started...and that thought has made me panic! Will the LR do its job fast to keep water parameters in line? <Perhaps... only experience will show> Are you familiar with IPSF (Indo-Pacific Sea Farms)? They have a 9 for $99 package where you can mix and match different sand critters, etc. I do want to stir the sandbed, correct?  <Yes and yes> I think from your site I read these critters won't go down to deeply in the sandbed to interfere with the anaerobic zones. How does this sound? <Best to place a layer of "plastic" screen door material in-between to block their progress at the depth you want...> MicroHermits-detritus (?) Trochus Grazers-algae Hawaiian Turbo Grazers-algae Nerite Grazers-algae Strombus Grazers-algae Bristle Worms-sand stirrer (?) <Not necessary.> Live Sand Activator (includes live sand, 6 Grazing snails, 6 MicroHermits and tiny worms) Do the snails eat detritus and stir the sand, too?  <Not much of the former with the species listed and none of the latter... you can get some Nassarius species snails for this subsurface cruising> I know you don't like choosing specific items but as you can see I am not sure what these critters actually do! Please help!!! <Hmm, then help yourself... by studying references, querying others for their disparate opinions... and making up your own mind... Do use the Chatforum service: http://talk.wetwebfotos.com/> If I get these critters should I stay away from a goby...will this package be a snack to the sand sifting goby? <Some of it...> One more questions, PLEASE! What is your opinion of MiniStars-Hawaiian Reef Brittle stars? <They're valuable animals. Bob Fenner> Thank You, Thank You, Thank You!!!!! Susie

Alkalinity and Sand Stirrers Good day Mr. Fenner... Thank you for all of your help in the past. Recently I discovered a problem with low alkalinity in my 48 gallon reef aquarium. I have also been having a huge problem with nuisance algae (diatoms, hair, bubble). Since, I added the CPR BakPak II (w/o bio-bale) I have noticed a huge improvement in water clarity, and it seems that the algae bloom has slowed considerably. Regarding the Alkalinity issue, I was getting a reading of 6dKH but after a 15 gallon water change, and one dose of buffer/alkalinity supplement (Kent SuperBuffer) my Alkalinity is reading 13dKH. Is it possible/likely/safe for such a drastic change in alkalinity?  <Hmm, possible... not likely with "one dose"... and not safe for many true/stony corals> My inhabitants seem fine, actually my hairy mushrooms are standing and swelling more than ever. <Ah, good> On a slightly different note, I've got a 3 1/2" bed of live sand that is still getting a coat of diatoms, and what I suspect may be a form of blue/green algae, or possibly Cyanobacteria. <These titles are used interchangeably... same organisms> It's not red/purple so I'm leaning toward BGA. Not very attractive, and my clean-up crew isn't getting paid this month (the blue hermits take their pay in Astrea snail flesh, not cool!). <no> I've been considering some form of sand stirrer but am having trouble weighing the options. I get the feeling that you don't recommend the brittle stars, horseshoes, sand sifting stars,  <Some of the first are okay, and the latter in the form of Archaster is excellent> and you don't seem too hot on cucumbers (not the salad variety). I think bullet gobies or sleepers may be a possibility but they are quite hard to locate in my vicinity. Do you agree with these choices, or are there any other suggestions as to how to stir the sand and not allow the algae to sit?  <There are a few other choices... but these will do> I've been concerned that the sand stirrers would deplete my DSB of beneficial critters.  <This won't happen> So far my NO3 readings have been undetectable so the NNR, and conservative feeding schedule seems to be working. I appreciate your candid advice. Jason...the guy who says "My head hurts and my hands are hands are prunish but my mushrooms are lookin' better each day" <You're doing fine my friend. Bob Fenner>

Sand Sifters Hi Bob, Mike (Pinkie Finger) <Hey, could be worse!> here again. You pointed me at the sand sifter article on WWM when I asked about horseshoe crabs, well, sorry to say it's a blank page, just a FAQ header on top with no article.  <Sorry re this... the "article" is actually a book section... not yet in print... please read through the associated FAQs file...> Read through on Cukes, Yikes! The TBS package comes with one, not sure what to do about it, I don't think it would be a problem asking them not to include them in the package.  <No problem excluding it> On the Cuke page you mentioned some tropical species that are small and relatively safe to keep, any species to recommend, or are they still verboten (sp?)?  <Just with an "e" in place of the "I"... and most all the small ones are okay... in a not too-tiny system> As always, thanks again! After I move to Oregon, if you ever get up around Eugene, be sure and let me know, I'd be happy to pay you back for all your health with some of the local breweries product. <Sounds great. A friend has moved back to there from San Diego, and we're due to haul his VW up to him. Be seeing you. Bob Fenner> Mike

Re: Sand Sifters (Miracle Mud, Thalassia) <Sounds great. A friend has moved back to there from San Diego, and we're due to haul his VW up to him. Be seeing you. Bob Fenner> Won't be moving out that way till the end of August/early September. On another topic, in the Miracle Mud filter I'm planning, would turtle grass do well in a separated section from the macroalgae?  <Yes, if the sump is big enough... have seen Thalassia used like this around the world> or would the turtle grass do better in aragonite?  <If the carbonate has some "sediment"...> I was thinking of placing some of the small members of the seahorse family that are native to Florida in such a setup, having them downrange of the macroalgae section so they get enough to eat since I'll be stocking that with various small crustacean species, and will most likely be doing a small setup for breeding amphipods, copepods, and Mysis anyway. Thought you might be interested, I did contact Ecosystem about Miracle Mud (I wish it had another name, it sounds like a Ronco product) <Leng (Sy, the owner) and I have been over and over this> , and my idea about a dedicated 125g setup. The comment from Ly Seng was that I was making it more complicated than necessary. I also mentioned the price, retailing for $9 a pound, and he said that it was available for less if you look. I did find a LFS that sells for $6 a pound, but they don't ship! So, I either buy before the move or talk a friend or relative into shipping stuff via airfreight for me. thanks for all your help and patience! <Hmm, no worries. Bob Fenner> Mike (PF)

Sand Sifter Hey Bob, I'm interested in getting a sand sifter for my reef. 29g, Skimmer, Power Filter, Power Head, 40 lb. of LR, 110w PC's, 4" DSB (oolite), 6 line wrasse, Firefish, Diadema, 2 skunks, 12 hermits, 10 snails. Would also like to add a coral or two at a later date. Any suggestions? <Yikes... this tank's a bit full already... Maybe a Cryptocentrus goby... re this and possible corals to try in such a system, please read through the articles and FAQs posted on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com. Bob Fenner> Thanks for the Knowledge! Dr Jon

Tank Move & Sand Sifting Stars Bob--hello again. I had a pleasant surprise yesterday--diatoms in the new system. The sand in the refugium was covered with them, and there were also some growing in the display tank. I'm getting more comfortable that the system will be ready for the move this weekend. Apart from the trace ammonia/nitrites I saw last Wednesday 24 hours after the LR was added, they've been undetectable ever since. Nitrates are around 2.5 ppm. Ca and Alk are also good--420 and 3.2 mEq/L, respectively. The larger system is also seeming to be more supportive of pH--I've had readings around 8.0 in the mornings, and the addition of Caulerpa to the refugium and the VHO lighting when the system is moved should help support pH even more. So this week I'm adjusting temp/salinity/pH on the old system to be the same as the new system, so that from a water chemistry standpoint, the move will be "seamless" for my livestock. <Sounds good> I have a question about my sand sifting stars. I have two of them in the old system. I'm trying to achieve a much better filtration through the DSB on the new system than I've had on the old one. The old LS bed is only about 2-3" deep, and the new one is about 4-5" deep. In addition to using the LS from my current system, I'm also going to seed it with some of the critters from IPSF and inland aquatics, with a few bristle worms, Mysis shrimp, amphipods etc. I'm also planning to add 50-60 Nassarius snails. <Okay> I now understand that sand sifting stars, while they are good at keeping the top of the sand bed free of diatoms and other undesirable algal forms, <I'd say, "useful for keeping these in check"> will completely deplete the sand bed creatures over time, leaving you eventually with just the sand and the stars. Is this in fact the case?  <No... more like foxes and rabbits in a given setting... a dynamic of predator/prey relations, populations will develop> I like the sand sifters, but I'm really leaning toward turning them in to the LFS if they're going to be counterproductive to what I'm trying to achieve with the DSB, which is lots of diversity! <They are part of "that" diversity... Perhaps a vacation or extension course could help cure your linearity of thought... very self-limiting> Thanks for your thoughts, and I hope you had a great weekend. <And for you, lifetime! Bob Fenner> James A. Deets

Sand Sifters Hello yet again... here's what my setup consists of... 100G FOWLR+LS 100lbs LR, one inch of LS 40G sump, will build plenum in there soon TF1000 1" Picasso Trigger 1.5" Flame Angel 2.5" Valentini Puffer 1" Maroon Clown 3" Black Spot Angel (currently isolated, may be taken out/exchanged for Kole Tang or Clown Trigger) <Not a good choice for the rest of your livestock... would you like a wild bear in your home? Even if it started out small and cute?> All the fist get along very well, except the natural relationship between the two angels <Yes> Anyhow, what do you suggest for a sand sifter? Gobies would be eaten up right?  <Please see/read the "Sand Sifters" section on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com> I could manually move the sand around here and there, but would prefer an "auto mode" provided by a sifting/churning animal. Less hands in the main tank the better right? <Yes> Thanks.. <You're welcome. Bob Fenner>

"Cleaner" (sand sifting) gobies Dear Bob, I am writing to ask your opinion on the subject of "substrate cleaning" gobies. I was looking for one to help keep my substrate (CaribSea crushed aragonite) turned. I would like to get the most mileage for my dollar (as we all would) and I was hoping you could point me in the direction of a real workhorse that is easy to care for? LFS recommended a sleeper watchman goby? <Possibly... Please see the "Sand Sifters" section on our site: www.WetWebMedia.com about this topic... and the related articles and FAQs there. Bob Fenner> Your opinion is always welcomed and greatly appreciated! Keep up the great work!! You are an invaluable asset to the aquarium community! <Thank you my friend> Jason Lockhart

Keeping Sand Bed Clean Hey Bob, Since adding live sand to my tank I have been getting a lot of algae growth. My piece of dead coral began to grow hair algae about a month ago. I thought that my fish would nibble on it but it soon spread to the whole piece of coral. In fear that my tank would be covered with it I took the piece out and it is sitting in a bucket of freshwater now. (I plan to scrub it and put it back in the tank tomorrow.) I also have a lot of algae growing on the surface of the sand bed. I replaced the bulb on my UV today too so I am hoping that this will help keep the algae down too. My water quality is good with Ammonia and NO2 being at 0. My problem is that my NO3 is at 40 and I know that these fuel algae growth.  <Yes... so... your water quality isn't actually too good...> I don't know why they are so high. My tap water is excellent and I don't have any kind of wet/dry filtration. I haven't been as consistent with water changes as I should so I am going to start changing 10% every week. My new Berlin Prizm should help to since I was using a sea-clone before. <All will help to balance nitrification/denitrification...> I also want to add sand stirring animals. I only have 11 hermits and an algae blenny. Could you recommend a package from one of the MO companies and any other ways to cut back on my nitrates? Thank You, Jonathan Pac <All posted on the site: www.WetWebMedia.com.... Next time I'm coming up with a shorter URL, you betcha. Bob Fenner>

Hey Bob, I think this one is for you. Mike >From: Suzanne Walters >To: mwk819@hotmail.com  >Just wanted to let you know that the "Sand Sifters" article in the marine section is blank-there's no text.  >Thanks!  Suzanne.  <Thanks for this... don't know in this case if the text is out pending publication in a book (the /... above the title indicates where this section is from... in this case, "The Conscientious Reef Aquarist", a book not in print... Or, if the area, section was created as a "place marker" for placing FAQs... Or, as is all too common, I just flubbed and forgot one day that I had made the page itself and for lack of attention didn't place the text... as both the FAQs and article are missing graphics (too many pages like this), suspect this last may be the case.) At any length, thank you again for bringing this to my/our attention... will add to ever-burgeoning list of "to dos.... fast!". And in the meanwhile, if you have a query, image request re Sand Sifters for Marine Systems, or any other question, please send it/them along.  Bob Fenner>

Sand sifter suggestions Bob -- I'm setting up a new 30gal marine combo reef/fish. I've got live rock and a fairly light live sand substrate. the tank is finishing it's cycle and I'm looking for the beginning livestock -- starting with a good sand sifter. Any suggestions? I'd like something mid-sized and colorful, but not too aggressive or large (seahorses will be my primaries in the tank, and they can't fight for food, as you know). In the past I've had blue-cheek gobies (that is what my LFS called them -- I don't know their real classification), but they liked the thicker substrate in my other tank. this tank has only about 1/2 inch or a little more substrate. TIA, David >> Hmm, something very passive, that will stay small, on the bottom, not more around too much (scares the Seahorses...). I'd look into the Engineer Gobies (Cryptocentrus), and the Amblygobius... maybe A. hectori, or a rainfordi if you can find a porky one to start with... Bob Fenner, who was at the S.I.O. Stephen Birch Aquarium yesterday with Jeff Turner of O.R.A. and Fernando Nosratpour visiting their SeaHorse breeding facility (eight species in generation)

Goby/blenny Is there a goby or blenny that you could recommend that stirs substrate (aragonite). <Many, but need to know how big your system is, what sort of other livestock, if/how much live rock you have... many of these fishes starve, and there may be other organisms that would be better to recommend for your circumstances> Also, are neon gobies an effective way to partially control parasites? <Oh yes, and most would-be predators recognize them as "friends" versus snacks... but once again, need more info.... about what else you have, intend to place in this system> Thank you, Rob
You're welcome,
Bob Fenner

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